A commentary on San Felipe

The News for February 6th

BBVA Bancomer account changes

If you are a foreign resident of San Felipe it is quite likely that you have an account at Bancomer in order to handle the payment of your bills and to provide a financial reference for obtaining your annual visa in Mexico. Bancomer is enhancing the security of your online transactions and you may find that your access has recently been blocked. You will see a notice like this when you try to log in your account online:

Bancomer notice

It just means that they have placed a block on your account. Do not worry, your money is in good hands. Bancomer just wants you to come into their office, sign new agreements, get new passwords and to be issued a new digikey that generates a random code for further  verification of your identity. The digikey is something that commercial account holders have wrestled with for years. It looks like this and you will need to have it at hand every time you log in:

New Bancomer key

Unfortunately, the only person who can reactivate your account is the manager at the downtown BBVA office, Edna Enriquez Rivera. She is extremely helpful and the entire process of changeover of your account can be handled the same day you go in. Set aside a morning during the middle of the week for the fastest service.

The News for December 20th

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Winter weather is upon us and today it is raining in San Felipe. South of town, the amount of precipitation has been small but reports are coming in of gully-washers to the north. I am sure that the Mexicali road will be seeing very poor driving conditions at times. Let us hope that the construction zone at the south end of the Laguna Salada (km85-90) is prepared for a deluge from this latest low pressure system. It could become a mud bath there.

As I mention every year, very little business gets done from now till after the festival of 'El Dia de Reyes' (Three Kings Day), also known in much of the world as Epiphany, on 6th. January. The date marks the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men who traveled from afar, bearing gifts for the infant baby Jesus. In many parts of Mexico, gifts are exchanged on this date, not on Christmas day.

This is the time when I get a lot of demands because impatient Americans do not understand the system. Why is their paperwork not finished? Why does nobody answer the telephone or reply to email? What can I say – I also take it easy and only infrequently find time to attend to the deluge of email.

After Tres Reyes, business starts to pick up. Executives and bureaucrats plan their return from vacations and family visits, and by mid- to late-January Mexico is humming again. In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy holiday season. Relax and enjoy it. We will talk soon!

The News for December 14th

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a subtle change in the appearance of our web pages for the past couple of days. Over the past several months, Luis and Anita (who run San Felipe’s premier website solutions company To The Nines Wenb Agency ) have been building a new site with a new theme. It is a really huge task to migrate a website the size of the San Felipe site to a new system and to test it. After all, there are pages of history built with Adobe PageMill (if anyone still remembers this early website building tool) going back to 1997. In fact there are well over 4000 pages and tens of thousands of pictures from the past that will provide some remarkable insights on a bygone era in San Felipe development for computer “archeologists” of the future. Stay tuned as we experiment and bear with us if any of your favorite features appear to be missing. Rome was not built in a day! Right now, we are back to the old way of doing things while we assess the comments and feedback from some of our testers.
Over the weekend, Doug Magee from Gonzaga reminded me that the US is introducing new regulations for absentee voters living abroad. Here are the highlighs:

Be an active voter. Start thinking about your participation in the U.S. 2012 elections today!
The Consular Section staff at the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana is ready to assist you in completing your Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) — the form you need to complete this year to register to vote in the 2012 elections as an overseas absentee voter. Our purpose is to inform and educate you about your voting rights, to ensure you are able to exercise your right to participate in elections for federal offices (President, Vice President, Senator, and Representative), and to assist you with voting in state or local elections, if allowed by your state.
New absentee voting laws are in effect for the 2012 elections. You will no longer automatically receive ballots based on a previous absentee ballot request. All U.S. citizens outside of the United States who want to vote by absentee ballot in the 2012 primary and general elections must complete a new Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) every year if they wish to vote from abroad. States are now required to send out ballots 45 days before an election. No matter what state you vote in, you can now ask your local election officials to provide your blank ballots to you electronically (by email, internet download, or fax, depending on your state). You can now also confirm your registration and ballot delivery on-line. Be sure to include your email address on the form to take advantage of the electronic ballot delivery option. This is the fastest and most reliable way to receive your ballot on time, and we strongly recommend that every overseas voter take advantage of it. Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website
Beginning in January 2012, presidential primaries will be held in the states of New Hampshire (January 10), South Carolina (January 21), Florida (January 31), Missouri (February 7), Wisconsin (February 21), Arizona (February 28), and Michigan (February 28). Other states will follow throughout the spring and summer. Voter registration deadlines for primaries are as early as January 3, 2012. Note: Participation in party presidential caucuses by overseas voters is not protected by federal law and requires in-person attendance in most cases. If the party you are affiliated with selects presidential nominees by caucus in your state contact state party officials for further information.
You can obtain a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) at FVAP’s website. The FPCA is accepted by all local election officials in all U.S. states and territories. It allows you to register to vote and request absentee ballots for all elections for federal offices (presidential and state primaries, run-off, special, and the November general elections) during the course of the year. An online wizard will help you complete the form. Depending on your state’s voting requirements, you then either send in the FPCA electronically or mail it to your local election officials. To mail it, print out the completed FPCA and the (U.S.) postage-paid envelope containing the address of your local election officials. If you bring in your forms or ballots to us we will mail them back home for you without you having to pay for international mail. If it’s easier for you to use Mexico’s postal system, be sure to affix sufficient postage and allow sufficient time for international mail delivery. Of course, if you wish and have the opportunity, you may still mail your ballot yourself directly from the United States.
If you want to submit your ballot through the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana, you may drop it off with someone from our staff in the American Citizen Services waiting room. In Baja California Sur, you may drop your ballot off in person at the Consular Agency. We are here to serve you.

Even if your state does not have a presidential primary in the early months of 2012, it is important that you submit a new Federal Post Card Application this and every January to receive all absentee ballots for which you are eligible. By applying early, you also allow enough time for election officials to contact you and resolve any questions or problems with your registration/ballot request. 

Remember that your vote counts, and that many U.S. elections within the past ten years have been decided by a margin of victory of less than 0.1%. All states are required to count every absentee ballot as long as it’s valid and reaches local election officials by the absentee ballot receipt deadline. 

Be an Educated Voter. Check out the FVAP links page for helpful resources that will aid your research of candidates and issues. Non-partisan information about candidates, their voting records, and their positions on issues are widely available and easy to obtain via numerous websites such as Project Smart Voter. You can also read national and hometown newspapers on-line, or search the Internet to locate articles and information. For information about election dates and deadlines, subscribe to FVAP’s Voting Alerts ( FVAP also shares Voting Alerts via Facebook and Twitter. 
If you have any questions about registering to vote overseas, please contact the US Consulate General’s Voting Assistance Officer at (664) 997-2000, or at

Also over the weekend we saw the start of the Posadas for the Christmas season. Many people participate in the parades that leave the Arches each evening and proceed down Chetumal to the center of town and to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadelupe.

There were also a number of people who contacted me about the acrid smell in the air and haze over the town that caused burning sensations in the eyes. The phenomenon was easily visible on Saturday and Sunday from our tidecamera.

Some people contend that it was connected to the burning of rubbish at the dump in the desert that started on Friday:

This is a necessary procedure to reduce the volume of trash and to stop any toxic pollutants from seeping into the groundwater if rain is expected. The burn on Friday was started when the winds were blowing south towards the airport but an unexpected shift in the winds may have brought some small part of the smoke out into the bay. The traces of rain we had on Sunday and Monday were enough to clear the air.

The News for December 10th

This is turning out to be the coldest December that I can remember in many years and it is showing in the cost of heating bills. The majority of people who visit this town or come looking for a place to retire do not appreciate how extreme the climate can be. The common perception is that you need nothing more than swimsuits and shorts for your visit – wrong! Fur coats would be more appropriate this week and a pair of Uggs is always a welcome accessory for the months of December through February if you plan to go out in the evening.

One thing that catches winter visitors off guard is that many hotel rooms do not have heat, so you should plan accordingly. Smuggling in a small electric space heater is definitely discouraged, with talk of the danger of starting a fire because of old wiring. In most cases, the real problem is the exorbitant cost of electricity. I find that an electric blanket is the ideal solution for the bed and I have had friends who came to visit who brought battery-powered gloves and socks. I will always remember one New Year's eve of eating in a local restaurant where most of the diners (including my party) were wearing hoodies to keep their ears warm.

A very popular way to heat the living room for many residents is to use a propane heater. Some of these (often used to heat garages and workshops) can put out a lot of heat quickly and the operating costs are around one sixth of that of a comparable electric space heater. The room can get quite stuffy after a while so it is always advisable to keep a window slightly open to let in some fresh air.

Incidentally, the sea water is now around 57 F so if you really want to get into the water I suggest a trip to the hot springs down in Puertecitos, a pleasant one hour drive south on good pavement. Just be sure to go around the time of high tide to avoid getting scalded (check the tide calendars on the weather page).

The tearing up of the sidewalks along the south end of the Malecon is proceeding and deep trenches are being dug to put the utilities underground. I am sure that AnitaNet will have some interesting photos of the work over the next couple of months.

Parades have now started in town as part of the Christmas season. The holy day honoring the Virgin of Guadelupe is almost upon us and this marks the end of the working year for many people. Do not expect any significant progress to occur on any paperwork you may have in the pipeline until after Epiphany. I plan to substantially cut back on my business activities till then.

The News for November 26th

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 huaraches. 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

The News for November 21st

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 signaling 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.

The News for November 20th

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 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.

News for Thursday November 10th

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.

The News for November 9th

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.