Friday, February 27, 2015

Baja Border Drone Wars

San Diego and Tijuana Bond Over $230 Billion Economy

3D Robotics Co-Founder Jordi Munoz
Jordi Munoz, co-founder and chief technical officer of 3D Robotics Inc., holds a prototype XLM multi-rotor
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the company's research and development facility in San Diego, California.
Photographer: David Maung/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Jordi Muñoz lives in CaliBaja, a binational metropolis that San Diego and Tijuana want to put on the map.
A Mexican native with permanent resident status in the U.S., the 28-year-old is the co-founder of North America’s largest drone manufacturer, 3D Robotics Inc. Its aerial vehicles are designed in a San Diego office building and get their wings in a Tijuana factory where Muñoz’s childhood friend, Guillermo Romero, supervises a workforce of 115. Engineers from both countries shuttle between the two locations. 
“Being on the border has allowed us to fabricate everything in-house,” Munoz said. “Workers in Tijuana have a California mentality, they don’t see limits -- it’s a really nice combination.” 
Like many people in California’s second-largest city, Muñoz sees the border more as an inconvenience than a barrier. Businesses are taking the same view. The region has a $230 billion economy that boosters tout as a rival to the pairing of innovation and cheap labor in Asia.

“We’re going to convince the world that it’s better to invest in San Diego and Tijuana than China or India,” said Jorge Astiazarán, a physician and mayor of Tijuana since 2013.
U.S. companies still outsource to Tijuana’s assembly plants, as they have since the North American Free Trade Agreement 21 years ago. What’s new is that Tijuana has grown into a center for engineering and specialized manufacturing.

“San Diego has a very well-educated workforce, but we have gaps,” said Mark Cafferty, president of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. “When you look south to Tijuana, all of those gaps are filled.”
Mega-Region Partnership 

CaliBaja covers more than 28,000 square miles -- metropolitan San Diego, California’s Imperial Valley and Mexico’s Baja California. The area was part of Mexico before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 by ceding California to the U.S.

For decades, San Diego’s ties to the military -- it has the West Coast’s largest Navy base -- overshadowed any relationship with Mexico, making it easy to ignore what was happening to the south, Cafferty said. Tijuana was long notorious for violent drug gangs and booze-soaked visits by day-tripping Americans. The city of 1.3 million has started to shed that reputation.

Today the region is represented by the CaliBaja Bi-National Mega-Region Initiative, a partnership of economic-development groups funded by government agencies in both countries and companies including Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 
Near-Shoring Mantra

A group delegation to Japan in November pitched engineering and manufacturing opportunities to Toyota Motor Corp. Trips are planned to Dubai and Qatar to promote the region to private-equity investors.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he and his Tijuana counterpart have a mantra: “It’s not about offshoring, it’s about near-shoring.”

Connected by three border crossings, including the world’s busiest at San Ysidro, San Diego and Tijuana have grown physically closer as infrastructure and processing improvements mean the average motorist can get through a checkpoint in about 30 minutes, down from more than two hours a year ago.

Wait times also have decreased for the pedestrians who queue up all day long. It’s a night-and-day transition, with the San Diego side lightly developed, a mix of green fields and low-slung buildings in industrial parks, and the Tijuana side crammed with dense neighborhoods, some of them slums with plywood-roofed shacks abutting the fence. 

Convenient Alternative

There will be another crossing later this year: Investors in San Diego and Tijuana are building a 525-foot bridge to whisk travelers across the border to and from Tijuana’s A.L. Rodríguez International Airport, making it a more convenient alternative to San Diego’s one-runway airport.

The binational push comes as Republicans in Congress and President Barack Obama battle over his effort to expand programs that would allow some undocumented immigrants to live temporarily in the U.S. A judge ruled this month that Obama had overstepped his authority.

That debate is playing out far from San Diego and Tijuana. Faulconer delivered part of his state of the city speech in January in Spanish and endorsed “efforts to overhaul our broken immigration system.” Astiazarán was in the audience.

Faulconer, a Republican, has stopped short of backing Obama’s executive action -- but supports the concept of a pathway to citizenship for some in the U.S. illegally.
Entrepreneurial Spirit
In Tijuana, a new expertise is taking hold in clusters of audiovisual, wireless communications and medical businesses. Universities in Baja California, the state of 3.3 million that includes Tijuana, last year produced a record 2,407 engineers, more per capita than in the U.S.

“The best of the Mexican engineers are as good as any American,” said Olin Hyde, founder of Englue Inc., a data-analysis company he keeps headquartered in San Diego because of the skilled work force in and near Tijuana.

Other companies -- including medical-device maker CareFusion Corp. and Cubic Corp., which designs combat-training systems -- also follow the 3D Robotics model.

Because of its location, some 1,700 miles (2,800 kilometers) from the capital of Mexico City, Tijuana has a more entrepreneurial spirit than the rest of the country, said Manuel Rodriguez, a business consultant who headed the Tijuana Economic Development Corp. until January. 
‘Massive’ Results 
Take risk-takers like Muñoz, whose psychiatrist father bought computer parts at San Diego swap meets and brought them back to Tijuana for his son.
As an 8-year-old, Muñoz assembled components from a hobbyist rocket and a radio-controlled car to fashion a bomb that he detonated from afar with “massive” results. “I did it once, it was cool, and I never did it again,” he said.
A decade later, Muñoz applied the same do-it-yourself ethos to fashioning the brains of his drones -- the autopilot that keeps the contraption stable -- from video-game components. He wrote about his work on blogs, where he was discovered by Chris Anderson, then the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and a technology investor in Berkeley, California.
The two teamed up to form 3D Robotics, with Anderson remaining in the Bay Area and Muñoz developing drones in his San Diego office, which has a pool table and views of the hills where he grew up. Outside the Tijuana factory, finished drones buzz around the concrete warehouses.

“Jordi’s goal was to have the Wal-Mart of drones,” said Romero, his childhood friend and the engineer who runs the plant, as he inspected recently completed motors, propellers and circuit boards. “When I saw this thing flying in front of me, I saw the future.”

How to Move to Mexico? Checklist not required...

Packing up the last boxes in the kitchen of my California home I caught myself looking around at the empty walls. It was an odd feeling and I could sense that this move was not like anything I had ever done before...

Life on foreign soil was nothing new to this old Gringo as I had taken advantage of many opportunities through the years to explore living and working abroad. So why was this time different I asked myself? The question stayed on my mind as I finished packing and loaded the few remaining boxes that I had carefully labeled onto the truck. That was done and I checked off the box on my list of things to do. With an engineering background I had become accustomed to always doing my homework and planning everything down to the very last detail. This move to Baja California, Mexico was no different. I had been able to find a company that would rent me a truck that I could take into Mexico and I ended up with something so big it almost scared me. Friends had helped me load the large and heavy furniture earlier in the day and now the house was empty.

After closing and locking the truck doors I went back in for one last look. Standing alone in what had been my living room for many years I watched the late afternoon sun cast its light across the bare floors and I could see the distinctive marks on the carpet where my furniture had been so carefully arranged. My steps echoed down the hallway as I peered into empty rooms now devoid of all sound and color. This empty house had been my home but now seemed unknown to me in some strange way. I had kept a small radio turned on in the background while packing that last day but now even it was gone, sealed into the very last box I taped shut and now aboard the truck awaiting our departure.

The silence that now filled the house seemed to change the very character of the place. With all of my furniture, artwork, plants, rugs, music and a lifetime of precious junk carefully fitted into the back of a moving van, it felt as if my life and memories invested into this house seemed to have packed themselves up as well. Not wanting to give into the nostalgic moment I took the checklist from the bare kitchen counter and made one last look into cabinet drawers to be sure that nothing had been forgotten. Locking the front door behind me for the last time I tried to focus on the new chapter that was beginning in my life. Loading Dakota (my yellow Lab) into the cab of the truck I found myself wondering what was waiting ahead for us?
Working in some distant destinations like Buenos Aires, San Miguel de Tucuman, Caracas, Mexico City and Singapore I had developed an innate ability to adapt to life far from home and learn the local ways and customs to the point that it had become almost part of my very nature. So why did this move to the Baja California peninsula, only a few hundred miles to the south strike such a sensitive nerve within me? Trying to figure out how to back this enormous truck down my driveway without destroying half of the cars in the neighborhood (shouldn't they at least give us a driving test before turning us loose with such a huge thing?) with my car in tow behind was a particularly delicate maneuver that I somehow managed to pull off, although to this day I still don't quite know how. Letting the clutch out in first gear the truck lurched forward and I watched the house I had long called home slip slowly away. Having lived and worked halfway around the planet at times I always had one thing to fall back on. There was always one geographical constant in my life - my home back in California. Now I was taking everything I owned; every last plate, bowl, chair, book, CD, lamp, pillow, photo and collected memory in an oversized moving truck to a small 3 bedroom house in a seaside community in Mexico. As I shifted trying to find third gear I knew in my heart that there was no turning back now.
Heading down the 405 freeway I wondered even out loud at times about my decision. Friends and family had become accustomed to my wandering gypsy ways but they also sensed that there was something different about this move and a few even seemed to get emotional about it. I reminded them that I would be only a days drive away, but they were right. This move was different and even Dakota sensed it. Like most large dogs she loves to ride in the front seat and I was hoping that I could at least count on her vote of support but once the truck started moving forward she curled up on a blanket on the cab floor. I wasn't sure if her big brown eyes staring up at me were wondering if I had really thought this through or asking if I had the slightest clue of how to drive this big old truck. 

Either way she was of no help tonight.
Being the analytical one that I am I spent the next hour of driving going over all the planning and pre-move details in my head. One by one I went down the mental checklist. Everything was covered I assured myself. I had even measured all of the rooms in the house to make sure that my furniture would fit using a CAD drafting program to lay out the room arrangements. I reached down into my notebook next to me to make sure I had remembered to bring the printed room layout pages with me. I had arranged for a moving crew to meet me at the house the next morning with enough people and equipment to unload the truck and help me get everything into the house. I made sure the utilities were on, had already contracted a woman to help with the housekeeping and notified friends, family and business contacts of my new address and phone number. I had everything taken care of. 

STOP WORRYING, I kept telling myself...
About that time my daughter Olivia called me on my cell phone to see where I was at and to tell me that she already missed me. I think that she was just checking up on me as she probably knew that her dad had no clue on how to drive this monster truck some rental company had the poor judgment to entrust to me. Right about then I was starting to wonder why I hadn't considered contracting one of those cross border moving companies available. Accepting that it was obviously way too late to change anything now I focused my attention on trying to keep this thing inside my lane and avoid running over some small compact car that I couldn't see in the side mirrors that seemed to be 20 feet above the road. One thing for sure, I had gained new respect for truckers who drive these things for a living. I made a date with Olivia on the phone for her to take the Amtrak down next week. I would pick her up at the train station in San Diego and I was already planning things for us to do together once we crossed the border going south.
It was dark now and as I passed San Clemente I was able to catch my first good look at the ocean. The moonlight was glimmering across the Pacific and suddenly I was reminded of why I had made the decision to make the move in the first place. Growing up in Southern California I had learned to walk the fine line between the teasing lure of its miles of coastline and the knowledge that I could never actually afford to live close enough to enjoy the view. My earning power grew every year but was far outpaced by skyrocketing coastal property values California was famous for. I figured it was just one of life's cruel jokes on an average joe like me. My professional life had reached the point where I was able to control more of my time and the vast majority of it was spent in front of a computer screen. While checking my email one morning over coffee I realized that the answer was right in front of me. High speed internet allowed me the luxury to work almost anywhere and I knew my productivity had to increase living near the beach. At least I knew for sure that I could never find a nicer work environment. I had spent many vacations enjoying the northern Baja Pacific coastal areas and the affordable property values, close proximity to Califoria and its perfect year round weather made my decision a quick and easy one. The only question at that point was why I hadn't thought of it sooner. I was moving to Mexico and needed to find where along the Baja peninsula I would stake my claim.
And so I began the process. I started my checklist.
Gearing down as I exited the off ramp in San Diego I took out my map and was able to find the rental yard where I would drop off the truck the next day. Part of my plan was to leave my vehicle in tow parked at the drop off location so I would have something to drive back to the house. Finding the rental yard office I could see that every parking space in front was filled with rental trucks, vans and trailers. With no other alternative I unhooked my vehicle and parked it in the street. It looked OK and the area was well lit so I locked it up and got back up into the truck to continue my journey. Back on the freeway now, signs began to appear notifying me of the approaching international border. I knew that the San Ysidro crossing into Mexico was near.
Right about then I was feeling pretty good about my decision to make the move south and was even losing some of the fear of this multi axled beast beneath me. Part of my planning included crossing the border late at night so as to avoid having to drive this massive truck through Tijuana traffic. A few hours of driving was not enough to prepare me for such a task and so I thought this would be the perfect time. You can imagine my surprise when the Mexican customs agents at the San Ysidro border crossing rushed out, arms waving to stop me. Large trucks were required to cross at Otay Mesa and the truck crossing was now closed until the following morning.
That wasn't on my checklist.
The customs agents were kind enough to open a gate leading out west through the old commercial crossing area and helped me to maneuver the truck around and back out into San Ysidro on the USA side of the border. I had to find a place for us to spend the night. It was almost midnight when we found a motel that accepted dogs and where I could park the truck. Setting my alarm for 4:00 AM, I figured that we could get to the Otay border early and be the first in line. First in line is first to cross I figured. I was used to operating on little sleep and something that I must admit that I even liked to wear as some sort of badge of honor or something. I had even calculated how many extra years of life I was going to be able to enjoy out of bed by sleeping fewer hours per day. With Dakota already snoring loudly on her blanket next to the bed I turned out the light and quickly went to sleep.
It seemed like only minutes later that the alarm clock was going off. I peered out of the corner of one eye to make sure that the clock wasn't wrong and debated whether or not to hit the snooze button. Pulling the covers back I set my feet on the floor and turned the light on. Dakota covered her head with one paw and groaned. I understood what she was feeling. I was almost tempted to climb back into bed myself but then I remembered the checklist that I had worked so carefully to plan and prepare for. Time was ticking and we needed to hit the road.
Arriving at the Otay truck crossing before 4:30 AM we quickly discovered that we were not the first in line. We weren't even in the first fifty but the good news is that by mid morning we were pulling up to the house and I was thinking how nice it would be to just go lie down on any floor in the house and pass out. I was tired but I also needed to get the truck dropped off by the end of the day back in San Diego. There was a lot to unload and the clock was running. It was then that I remembered that the moving crew was supposed to be there by 8:00 that morning and looking at my watch I could see that it was now past 10:30. I had spoken with the crew foreman a few days before to confirm the job, the address and the time. Thinking back I recalled that his phone number was on a business card. I looked through my wallet, notebook, and up and down my checklist. No business card and no phone number. I couldn't even remember his name. A very uncomfortable feeling quickly took over me. 

Most people would call it panic!
Surely they had already come and gone when they saw no truck, I told myself. I knew that there was no way I would be able to unload the truck myself and the house had two sets of stairs that would have to be negotiated. I was in trouble, my heart began to race and I felt myself break out into a cold sweat that late fall morning. Looking around the neighborhood I could see a Señora sweeping the sidewalk in front of her home and some small children riding their bikes down the street. An elderly gentleman sat watching me in silence from his front porch and nodded his head with a smile as I looked his way. He must have been amused at this dumb Gringo standing there with his dog trying to figure out how he was going to unload an entire truckload of furniture by himself. The cold sweat was turning into large beads now running down my temples. I was all by myself in Mexico with a big problem on my hands. My checklist, so carefully prepared was of no help right now.
Walking over to the elderly man on his porch I asked him in my best Spanish if he had seen any workers at my house earlier. I explained that I was expecting some men to help me unload the truck. He said that he might have seen someone there earlier. Or maybe that was yesterday, he added. Maybe it was the guy reading the electric meter. He wasn't sure. I had no idea what to do or who to call for help. It was a cool morning yet my shirt was glued to my back from the perspiration right about then. I was beginning to feel ill and it must have shown.
The man offered me a chair and said that I should sit down and have some fresh squeezed juice. I felt like I was in a desperate situation and he wanted for me to sit with him on his porch and drink orange juice! He definitely didn't understand my precarious predicament and the last thing I wanted to do was waste more time than I had already lost that day! I continued to argue but the old man ignored my protests, guiding me by the arm to the chair he pushed forward and where he insisted that I sit down. Having little strength left to fight, I relented and took the chair for a moment. I told myself that I would give in for a minute or two just to be polite. Then I would excuse myself to get back to the real problem of how I was going to unload that truck and get everything into the house. There were more pressing matters at hand and no time to lose, I reminded myself.
Sitting down in the soft cushioned chair and allowing my muscles to relax for a moment did feel good, I had to admit. The hard springs in the seat of the truck had left my posterior numb and the vibration of the truck's diesel engine still had my teeth chattering a bit. Sitting back in the chair I allowed myself for the first time since arriving that morning to look out and take in the fantastic ocean view before us. The cool ocean breeze that crossed his porch felt so soothing right then and you could even hear the sound of the crashing waves on the distant beach below. With each sip of the cold juice I felt my pulse start to slow and my blood pressure begin to drop.
My breathing regulated down to a more measured pace and it was then that I allowed myself to open up and share with this kind old man the story of my move to Mexico. He listened and we laughed together as he shared some of his own experiences when moving his family here from Jalisco. His wife stepped out onto the porch and asked me when I had eaten my last meal. Thinking about it for a moment I remembered eating a hamburger that a friend had brought by the day before while packing. I also had some peanuts on the drive down last night I added. The Señora became so upset that she was scolding me after realizing that 24 hours had gone by since my last meal. She insisted that she would prepare something for me to eat immediately and before I could even tell her not to bother she was gone inside the house.

I s
hrugged my shoulders and commented to the old man that it was no big deal to me. I was used to going a day without eating at times and even operating on little sleep while working on a pressing project. I told him that it seems to have become part of the "American Way of Life" for many of us north of the border. The old man listened to my reasoning and justification in silence, all the time rocking in his chair and staring out over the sea. Smiling, he then turned to me and put his hand on my arm. He hesitated for a moment, as if searching for the right words and then told me that I had come to Mexico for a reason. Everything happens for a reason he told me and life had brought me to Mexico because there was something I needed to learn. 

I had no clue as to what this kind old man was trying to tell me nor could I comprehend how true his words would become. I was too caught up worrying about that truck full of furniture sitting there. Dakota and I shared that meal on the front porch and then thanking my new friends for their hospitality I walked back to the house to figure out what I was going to do. It was now getting close to noon and the truck wasn't going to unload itself. I needed to have it back across the border before 6:00PM or have to pay a hefty penalty. 

That wasn't in my plan or anywhere on my checklist. 

Seeing no other option, I began to unload what I could from the truck. Boxes, chairs, lamps, pillows and whatever I could carry. I hadn't even gotten through a quarter of the truck and looking at my watch it was now 1:30 and I still had so much left to go. Setting down a box of dishes in the kitchen I felt myself beginning to feel desperate, knowing that I could never finish this by myself and without a clue as to what I was going to do.
It was at that moment that I was reminded of something my mom would say, "It is always darkest before the dawn" as I heard voices outside the front door. I let out a sigh a relief thinking that the movers had come back and would help me finish unloading the truck. Running outside I felt the air go out from my sails as I was to find only the elderly couple who had graciously offered me their front porch and lunch just a few hours before. They asked how things were going and I showed them the small extent of my progress. They surely saw the despair in my eyes and then asked if I would be upset that they had already called their grandson telling him to bring a few of his college friends over to help a neighbor.
Within a short while I had a half dozen young men helping me to unload the truck and move everything into the house. I had a hard time keeping up with them just to direct the traffic and tell them where everything should go. I was still trying to follow my checklist and CAD drawings of room layouts but it reached the point that just getting the truck unloaded and everything safely into the house was an achievement I could live with. Within an hour the truck was empty. It would have been almost perfect except for the fact that with all of my analysis and planning I had neglected to measure the space for the refrigerator. It was an inch too short for my fridge to fit.
The Señora tried to wash some cups and asked me if I had water in my pila. What was a "pila", I asked? So much for checklists and perfect planning. 
The boys were now sitting on the back of the truck and on the front curb drinking juice brought down by the Señora. I offered them each twenty dollars for their hard work. They had practically saved my life (OK, a slight exaggeration) and it was a bargain in my eyes. The old man quickly stepped forward and pushed my hand full of cash away. He reminded me that I was a neighbor and that neighbors help their neighbors. The more I insisted the harder the look on the old man grew and I accepted that it was an argument that I would not win that afternoon.
I then offered to throw a barbecue for everyone once I was settled in. That offer was quickly and enthusiastically accepted and we all shook hands on it. Making my way back towards the border the truck was much lighter and easier to drive. I felt as if the trucks cargo was a load taken off my shoulders and I even turned on the radio to a local station, my left elbow hanging out the open window and humming to the ballads that played. A feeling of being almost light hearted came over me. I don't even remember the traffic and somehow I avoided running anyone over with the huge truck as I made my way to the Otay crossing that afternoon. Heading back towards the rental yard I could only think about getting back home and putting some order to the house. There was still so much to do but I also knew that I felt so very tired. At least I would find the box with the wine and pour a glass to celebrate, I thought to myself.
I felt a small relief to get the responsibility of the truck off my hands as well as some sense of pride over the fact that I had managed to get through the entire ordeal in one piece. My move to Mexico was done. Climbing into my own vehicle I was about to turn on the ignition when I could see something under the front wiper.
A parking ticket.
Normally, that might have been something that would have upset me and end up ruining my day. At this point I just stuck it into the overhead visor without giving it another thought. After what I had been through for the last 24 hours it seemed so trivial at that moment and instead I just turned on the same Mexican radio station that I had been listening to in the truck. Making my way back down through afternoon traffic and driving south across the border I felt something different as I crossed into Mexico this time. I was no longer coming as a visitor or as a tourist. I was coming in as an official resident. I now belong here. Mexico was now my home and in the weeks and months that followed I would come to understand what an important and changing impact on my life that would be. 
Driving down the toll road I could see the late afternoon sun behind the Coronado Islands and I pressed forward, wanting to witness my first sunset from my new home. Once back in the house and in my kitchen I began tearing through the boxes until a bottle of Merlot, a wine glass and corkscrew were found. While searching through the boxes I also found the small radio I had listened to while packing the day before. Stepping over boxes to make my way down into the living room I saw the checklist on the kitchen counter with a few items that still remained unchecked. 

I wadded it up and threw it into one of the open boxes. I was tired of checklists.

I pushed an overstuffed chair and ottoman in the living room to face west out towards the back in full view of the approaching sunset. I poured a glass of wine and turned on the old radio I had placed up above the fireplace. I set my feet up on the big ottoman and let the moment sink in. The ocean view was spectacular and closing my eyes I could hear the wise words of the old man, my neighbor and new friend, reminding me that life had brought me to Mexico. There is a reason why I came here. I wasn't sure what it was that I was supposed to learn, but whatever it was I remember that it was feeling pretty good right at that moment. 
My moving to Mexico experience became one that I would remember often in the years that followed and taught me to accept that not everything in life can be planned and that you can over-analyze things at times. I now revel in the "sabor" of three good meals a day, preferably shared with family, friends and loved ones. I have found the wisdom in learning to let go of the "small stuff" and not stress over things that days later I could hardly remember anyway. I make time to share with those closest to my heart, even if only to sit out on the porch and enjoy a cool afternoon breeze or a classic Baja Pacific sunset, always with music in the background and a glass of wine or spirits when possible. I have also discovered the true and blissful joy in a good night's sleep and I have surrendered myself, body and soul to this wonderful place, culture and lifestyle on the Baja California peninsula. Today I embrace the "reason" life brought me here to Mexico and cherish every single day as a new adventure waiting to be discovered. I feel that time has turned back the clock and granted me new life, feeling at least ten years younger today than when I first moved here. At this point in my life I couldn't imagine living anywhere else on this planet.
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into nor could I have imagined what the future could possibly hold that first day, sitting in my overstuffed chair while taking in my first Baja sunset from "home." Dakota and I would quickly discover how large a circle of friends and family we were blessed with as our guest bedroom was frequently "reserved." I had to keep a calendar so as not to "over-book" the room. Many of our house guests discovered for themselves what brought me here in the first place and have since staked their own claim here in northern Baja. As neighbors now, our friendships have taken on a new and even deeper meaning. 
My daughter Olivia developed a special love for Mexico and on her frequent trips down we would share many fun and special adventures together discovering what a special place this truly is. Tomorrow is only the promise of what might be and life gave us no warning that her days on this earth would be cut short. In the nearly eleven years now since she left us I still thank God for the wonderful memories I cherish with her and the time we spent together in Mexico. I cannot walk along the beach below our home now without seeing Olivia and Dakota run out into the surf. It's a memory burned deep into my heart. When the emotions seem too much and overcome me at times, Cristina is now there by my side to offer her hand, love and support. She is by far, the most beautiful reason I was to learn and discover in my move to Mexico. 
Life has its reasons and I remember with great detail how it seemed almost magical as I watched the late afternoon sunlight dance across the shimmering water below, that first day in my new home. The house was still a mess with everything out of order and needing to be put away. I finally accepted that those were tasks that I could worry about later.

"Mañana," I whispered to myself.

For that moment all that seemed important was sharing that very special moment with a good glass of wine, a comfortable chair and Marco Antonio Solis' voice in the background across the airwaves. It became immediately obvious to me why so many are drawn to this special place. I let myself succumb to the moment, slowly drifting off into a deep sleep, knowing only that my life was changing. It was changing forever. Mexico was now my home and I was here to stay, anxious to discover what life was preparing for me on the road ahead. It felt like a healing hand on my shoulder; this old Gringo still had much to learn.

I believe that life has a reason for all of us. One thing is for sure, it's probably not to be found anywhere on a checklist...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gringo - Offensive term or are Americanos just too sensitive?

From time to time I get into this argument; frequently with my good buddy Dennis. Today was no exception. He, like others who share his point of view, rely on an old, narrow interpretation of the word that at one point in history could be taken to mean a derogatory sentiment towards a US citizen, or simply people considered to be "fair skinned".

Dennis is highly intelligent and a great debater. Most of these "mano a mano" duels fail to produce a clear winner, with both sides making jabs and strikes, quoting literary references and urban dictionary quotes.


Dennis loves to pull his old favorite comeback off the shelf, reminding me that when Zedillo was in charge of education he wanted to soften the harsh tone towards the US in the Mexican textbooks. That effort met with great resistance by the legislative branch and went nowhere.

So even though we both pull out all our old tired tricks and moves, in the end we fall back into our familiar zones of what we hold to be comfortable and true. Actually, I would probably be disappointed to learn one day that Dennis had changed his mind. Just knowing how he feels about this makes him a sure guarantee for a battle of wits, should I ever become bored.

But to be honest with you, I have lived and worked for most of my adult life here in Latin America and the better part of the last couple of decades here in Mexico. I have lived as a local within their communities, speaking their language, sharing food at their tables and mourned together with them at the loss of a family member or close friend. I married into a Mexican family and they along with my wife affectionately call me Gringo. They have done so almost from the very beginning, shortly after we just met. In fact I know when Cristina is mad at me because instead of calling me Gringo, she yells out "RON GOMEZ!!!

How I got to be called Gomez is a story for another day.

Maybe Dennis is right and after 10 years together I never realized before that all along, they have secretly hated and despised me!

The fact that I am still working down here and actively involved with many young professionals and gained their trust, gives me broad insight into what they think and say today. When the work day is done we frequently hang together, discussing soccer, politics, fishing, world events and their personal challenges and frustrations. There is an anger within this younger generation today. Perhaps I once carried that same pointed emotional energy at one time as well, now faded after a lifetime of experience and perspective. They are angry at their own government, at social injustice and yes, at the United States for what they view to be unfair and broad, over reaching actions that affect the world today. But that anger is not directed at the citizens of the US but at what they see to be a coalition of US political bullying and global corporate manipulation. The youth of Mexico today are online and well informed. Much better than we were at the same age. They simply don't share some tired, old ways of thinking of their elders and the term Gringo means something quite different to them. Perspective is everything and it is ridiculous to assume that the youth of today think the same way as their parents or grandparents did.

"Gringo" to most of the youth in Mexico today is simply a way to refer to US citizens and I understand that. Why don't they call us "Americans"? Simply because they are too.

In fact anyone living on the American continent down to Tierra del Fuego is an American, just like anyone living in France, Italy, Spain or England is considered to be European, along with the folks from a host of other countries over there. I will never forget when I first went to live in Argentina for a year in the early 70's as a teenager. When people would ask me where I was from, I would proudly proclaim to be an "American". I got over that quickly after so many people there reminded me that they were Americans too! I encountered similar experiences and viewpoints throughout my travels in South America including Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela in the 70's and most of the rest of Latin America in the 80's.

I suppose what spurred me to write this post today, were these words by Dennis, and I quote:

y the way,, in spite of what you think you know, which is exactly what you want to think you know, have no clue as to what is going on in your younger generation.........their private thoughts or cultural interpretations....their inate dislike for the USA which is taught in their schools. Even Christina, with her Mexican sense of cordiality and familial decency, won't tell you.
You don't know now, and you probably never will.
That's good, I'm sure..."

I suspect that what Dennis and others mistake for hatred against us Gringos is a hatred for what they see to be unfair and over reaching actions by the government of the United States. In fact most Mexicans down here hate their own government with almost the same level of distaste. Are there Mexicans who hate us as individuals? Of course there are. Just like there are some backwards thinking folks north of the border who hate Mexicans. Racism still exists today and probably will for eternity. Mexico is not immune from that affliction but it certainly is not systemic throughout Mexico, as some might want to believe. 

What Dennis and others forget is that almost without exception today, every family in Mexico has close relatives living north of the border. And those family members have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren born in the US and today are US citizens. Do Mexicans hate them too? Or do they only hate the fair skinned Gringos? What about those whose family members living north of the border have children and grandchildren of mixed race and are lighter skinned?
It really isn't as simple as many think.

And then he closed with this remark, referring to my comment that he probably doesn't hang around too many young people down here to know what they really think:

"By the way...I don't surround myself with choice..."

So then how could Dennis pretend to profess an intimate understanding of what the youth of Mexico think and believe today when he doesn't even bother to invest the time and effort it takes to get involved with them as I have and do, on a daily basis?

But what do I know?

According to Dennis, I don't even know what my own wife really thinks of me after 10 years together. I have debated with Dennis online for years now about this and know he didn't mean any disrespect, it's just that he's frustrated and tries to poke an emotional reaction out of me. Doesn't work and we'll remain friends, surviving to do battle another day.

Personally, I like David Kalish's take on this:

So go ahead, call me a Gringo. I can take a little controversy...

Moving to Mexico - an affair of the heart...

How to Explain a Love Affair

The question is one I have answered countless times over the years since making the decision to set anchor here on the Baja California peninsula. I am sure that many like me who have made the move down here are often asked as well by friends and family north of the border. Some think I am crazy (and they are probably right) but they still keep asking me the question.

What made me move to Mexico?

Living in Mexico is not for everyone but if I were to put a profile together of those who have made their life down here and still believe it was a good decision, it would look something like this:

Baby Boomers
Risk Takers
Easy Going

I seem to find some mixture of those qualities in most of the generally happy ex-pats with their lives down here. Living for years along the California coastline had molded a large part of who I had become and the lifestyle I had worked so hard to enjoy. Unfortunately, it was a lifestyle that was becoming more expensive than my cash flow could afford.

Growing up in Southern California, I had made frequent vacation trips down to the Baja peninsula but living here would be a different experience, and each step a story. House hunting in Rosarito Beach for a place big enough to accommodate all of my furniture and room for Dakota, my big yellow Labrador. Moving all my stuff down and actually getting it across the border was a story in itself.

I'll save that one for another day...

Figuring out how to get water from my "pila" and engineering a solution to a refrigerator that was too big for the space between my cabinets in the kitchen. I can never forget meeting my neighbors, the local Señoras of the neighborhood for the first time. They walked in unannounced through the open garage door bringing with them a welcome gift of a large tray of pan dulce.

They found me under the kitchen sink, cursing while attempting to hook up the ice maker, wearing only boxer shorts and a red face.

I remember how proud of myself I was when I had managed to score the best gardener deal ever, only to discover a month later that the gardener had not quoted me a rate in pesos. Life was a daily adventure it seems in those early months as I slowly learned to acclimate to the local culture and lifestyle. It wasn't always easy, straight forward or even made sense at times. Somehow I did get through it all, helped by so many people who expected nothing more in return than just a thank you and a smile.

Mexico is what it is and I learned that it was best to leave my American expectations and preconceived notions at the border. Driving down here you may find that the road is not always straight and there may even be a pothole or two along the way. This is not the USA. This is not endless subdivisions of identical tract houses with strip malls at every stoplight designed by planning engineers who seem to have all graduated from the same school of architectural design. This is Mexico and with all its troubles and faults, it remains a proud and independent country with a myriad of colors, flavors, designs, tastes, culture, opportunities and adventures. In all of my years here I don't recall two days ever being the same. When I am away for more than a couple of days I inevitably begin to long to come back home. Life anywhere else just seems plain and bland in comparison.

Life stories are written with memories ranging from the best to the very worst. Loss is a price we sometimes pay for risking to love and I remember an early morning phone call in April 2004.

Olivia, my youngest daughter had been found unconscious and was en route to the emergency room in Bakersfield. I remember countless friends and neighbors from Rosarito Beach, Tijuana and Ensenada calling me every day as I stood vigil over my daughter, praying for a miracle. They were watching over my home, feeding and walking Dakota, watering the plants and even paid my electric bill when it arrived. They had all come to know Olivia on her frequent trips down to spend time with me and they shared how everyone was praying for her. They reminded me not to worry about anything back home as all would be taken care of.

Ten days later, on a very early spring morning I was a helpless bystander in that hospital room in intensive care. Watching as the breathing of my precious baby girl grew labored, I felt as though my own life slipped away with her as I held Olivia tightly in my arms. She took one last breath and everything in my mind and my life just seemed to go dark at that moment. I honestly don't remember much about the days that followed or how I even survived. One thing that I do remember and will always stand out occurred days after the funeral, when I returned home to Mexico. The entire neighborhood came out to receive me as I got out of the taxicab. Right there in the middle of the street, in front of my home we hugged, cried and grieved together. I don't even remember paying the driver his fare.

I'm now sure that a neighbor must have taken care of that.

During the weeks that followed they cared for me as if I were a close family member, bringing meals, walking Dakota, spending time with me if only to listen and hold me up as I grieved. The strong sense of family here in Mexico is such an intricate element that makes up the very character of its culture and society. I never really experienced anything like that before in all my years but it felt as soothing as tired muscles slipping into a warm bath at days end. Without even a word being spoken on the matter I was unconditionally incorporated into membership into each one of their families - to some as a brother and into others as a son.

The months passed and I learned to deal with the pain by immersing myself into my work more and more. I suppose that we all deal with loss in different ways and I just did what seemed to come naturally to me. It was probably just self-preservation. My routine developed into what those close to me called "workaholic avoidance".

At least that was the diagnosis of the Señoras of the neighborhood.

As stereotypical Latino culture dictates and in true democratic fashion a vote was taken. It was unanimous. This long single Gringo was going to get a wife. He may not know it but he needed a wife, whether he liked it or not. The Señoras would see to that and a parade of dinner invitations soon followed. Surprisingly there would always be a single female friend who they just "happened" to invite over. I always tried to act surprised. Not that I wasn't open to the idea, mind you. It was just that I had only chuckled at such scenarios in movies and sitcoms and never actually imagined myself playing the role of the "eligible bachelor".

What the Señoras didn't know was that their husbands sabotaged their plans each time with a preemptive strike, providing me with detailed reconnaissance of what awaited me that night in the dinner date rotation. I would get the complete profile including her education, prior relationships, number of kids if any, her family, her job and income potential, medical history, natural hair color, what kind of car she drove, how much weight she had lost, status of her biological clock and a few other details that I'm probably not allowed to print here to keep a G Rating.

Oh, and they would always divulge her "REAL" age - they were quite sure that I would never get an accurate count from the candidate or our matchmaker / dinner host that night.

The following morning the Señora would always find an excuse to stop by, bringing fresh cut flowers or homemade tortillas. What she really wanted was to get the complete report. Did I think she was nice? Did I think she was pretty? Did I ask her for her number? Did she give me her number?

When am I going to call her???

It almost became a competition between the Señoras of the neighborhood as to who was going to be the winning matchmaker. I also think that some of the husbands were secretly running a pool on how long before the Gringo was finally going down.

I started keeping my blinds closed and looked out the peephole before answering the front door. Life as a single Gringo was becoming a bit dangerous.

As typically happens in life, love is a very difficult commodity to manipulate or manufacture and in spite of the best efforts and intentions of those well meaning Señoras of the neighborhood, cupid was not to find his mark with this Gringo at an arranged family dinner date. To their disappointment and my great surprise it would happen when least expected...

At a cooking class in Tijuana.

A good friend told me about a class given by a well known gourmet chef on Saturday mornings and I thought it would be fun to try something new. On that very first day of class I was trying to duplicate the flair with which Master Chef Noe Cortez worked his knife on the vegetables laid out in front of us. Selecting an onion as a worthy opponent, I effortlessly diced it up in record time. I looked at my work with great pride but before I could impress the rest of the class with my conquest I heard a sniffle come from across the counter top where I worked. All of my slicing and dicing had brought tears to a lovely young woman who had been overcome by the volatile sulfur released by the mutilated onion. Offering her my handkerchief, I knew little at the time that my life was about to change forever that day. In the months that followed Cristina would become my constant companion and my wife.

Ten years later, our family has grown to include a Baja rescue dog, three dobermans, a chihuahua, three neurotic cats and together we now live in our home outside San Quintin in a small fishing community called La Chorera. At nearly 16 years, Dakota could no longer walk and we made the incredibly difficult decision to have to put her to sleep. She had a good long life and she so loved the Baja beach below us. As I walk hand in hand with Cristina on that same beach now I am reminded what a rich, emotional and colorful experience my life on the Baja California peninsula has been.

Cristina loves to remind me that I made her cry the first time we met.

As I look back on all my years here in Baja I realize how many memories I have collected along the way. Somehow and without warning I found myself blending into the fabric of the society, culture and lifestyle that this wonderful slice of Mexico has offered me.

I spent the majority of my life as a professional nomad of sorts, traveling and working abroad in many countries on different continents. Each destination had its own unique qualities and attraction but I always felt like an outsider in one way or another. I probably came to Mexico with the same attitude but my life and experiences here on the peninsula changed my course forever as I woke up to one day to discover that this stretch of peninsula had adopted this well traveled Gringo.

Here in Baja I have found love. I am learning to cope with the pain of loss with the help of so many wonderful friends who have become my family. Cristina is now my life and Olivia will forever be in my heart. This is my home and where I hope to spend the rest of my days, God willing.

Open your heart and see if she doesn't invite you too...

Rolly Brooks - Descansa en Paz, amigo viejo...

24 years ago, an engineer living in Tarzana, California stopped to pick up a day laborer named Enrique to cut some shrubs around his house. Little did he know at the time it was the beginning of a long friendship that would not only radically change his home life in the US but would eventually take him to live in the backyard of Enrique's family in Durango, Mexico.

When Rolly was thinking of moving to Mexico he tried to research all the requirements to make the move and to learn what he could expect to find about day to day life once he was living there.

There was little to nothing available at the time and Rolly first contacted me back in 1999 when he read something I had posted on a forum about living abroad as an expat. He shared with me his frustrations and concerns and I shared with him my own experiences living as an expat in other parts of South America. In 2000 he made the move down and went through the usual learning curve that most expats living in Mexico have endured. Rolly soon realized he could help others avoid all the same troubles he and others like him have gone through and began writing a blog about his experiences including his building projects. Over the years, Rolly Brook has entertained and helped countless thousands of expats who came to rely on his website to figure out all the complexities and quirks of getting things done in modern day Mexico.

My Life in México

Rolly and I continued to stay in touch and about six or seven years ago he wrote me, asking my permission to include something I had written on my own experience moving down here to include in a book he was co-authoring with Carol Schmidt and Norma Hair. It would be titled "The Best How-To Book on Moving to Mexico" and they wanted to make my piece the closing chapter of the book. I felt honored by the request and agreed to have them include it. The book was published in 2009 and quickly became THE handbook for expats living in Mexico.

Rolly and I continued to stay in touch and he shared with me his battles with health, the changes in his small town around him as it grew, the drug cartels and his failing eyesight due to cataracts. But he still loved to write and he continued to update his website with new stories, new "tramites" and other information as he could.

The last night, when I returned home and checked my email before turning off the lights I found an email sent to me by a mutual friend. Rolly had passed away earlier in the day.

I have been contacted by many, many people since Rolly, Carol and Norma had published the book, touched by my story in that closing chapter. Today, I want to dedicate that story of my Baja beginnings to you my dear amigo Rolly Today you will in the thoughts of thousands whose lives you touched...

Winston Rollins (Rolly) Brook
8/20/1931 to 2/25/2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Federal Zone in Mexico - What is it?

The Federal Zone - Maritime Terrain Federal Zone Concessions

        • What is it

        • What are my rights and obligations?

        • How can I get it; and what are my benefits?

"En el mar la vida es mas sabrosa" / "Life is better at the beach"

1. What is a Federal Zone?

The Maritime Terrain Federal Zone, commonly known as the “Federal Zone,” is:

a. In the case of a beach, it is the 20-meter coastal strip of firm accessible and contiguous land to such beach. And in the case of a river, it is the 20-meter strip of the riverside starting from the delta, going 100 meters along the river.
b. Regarding reefs and cays located in the Mexican seas, their total surface shall be considered the Federal Zone.
c. As to lakes, lagoons, estuaries or natural deposits of sea water communicated directly or indirectly with the sea, the 20-meter strip of Federal Zone will start from the point where the biggest annual deposit of water or limit of the zone where the “Highest Tide” is found.

Be aware that there are specific regulations for marinas, artificial marinas and farm estuaries, but I will not mention such regulations to keep this article as simple as possible.

Based on the above stated, you can find Federal Zone in:
• Beachfront properties (horizontal and inclined lands, as well as cliffs).
• Lakesides.
• Sides of estuaries, lakes or rivers.
• Reefs and cays.

Also, based on the above, please be careful not to “buy” a Federal Zone (which is equivalent to buying the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn bridge or waterfront property in Arizona!), and consider it as part of your property in the following cases:
• Property near to estuaries, lakes or rivers.
• Property on cliffs.
• Coasts with rocks and with no beach.

In this regard, please be aware that the Federal Zone is considered as goods of common use of the Mexican Federal Government, with the understanding that a Federal Zone cannot be transferred, lost by possession, seized or subject to any kind of lawsuit as to its possession. In short, a Federal Zone cannot be transferred or acquired.

2. Which are the uses of the Federal Zone?

The options to legally use of a Federal Zone are the following:
1 Protection
2 Ornament
3 General use (including a profitable activity such as a restaurant or a hotel)

3. How can I legally use the Federal Zone?

Any resident (company or individual) in Mexico can use a Federal Zone through a concession granted by the Mexican government; in this particular case the corresponding authority is the Secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources. (SEMARNAT, for its acronyms in Spanish).

Any foreigner owning a beachfront property through a Mexican corporation or through a bank trust can apply for a concession for use of the Federal Zone in favor of the Mexican corporation or trustee bank holding the property so as to use or exploit it.

4. Which is the term of Federal Zone Concession?

The concession can be granted for up to 50 years in accordance with the applicable law; however the specific regulation for the Federal Zone provides a maximum term of 20 years. Once elapsed, and if certain conditions are fulfilled, the concession can be extended through prior request to the environmental authority.

5. Which are my rights by having a Federal Zone Concession?

The concession over a Federal Zone does not give to the concessionary any ownership right, i.e., the concessionary can only use or exploit such Federal Zone in accordance with its concession title, but is not the owner in any manner.

On the other hand, the concession rights for a Federal Zone can be assigned (transferred) with the authorization of the environmental authority.

6. How can I file an application for the Federal Zone Concession?

The Federal Zone Concession can be granted by the Environmental authority by filing an application and the term for its resolution is:
1. 272 business days, generally; and
2. A specific term of 208 business days whenever the investment is valued 200,000 times the minimal wage in Mexico, (which is 45 pesos per day, times 200,000 i.e., approximately 9,000,000 pesos).

7. Which are my obligations by having a Federal Zone Concession?

The obligations for a concessionary are the following:
• To use the concession pursuant to its terms and conditions.
• To use the concession’s rights after the date of approval by the authority
• To start an authorized construction within the term provided in the concession, and to inform its completion within the following three days.
• To be liable for the damages caused by hidden defects of the construction or derived from repair or maintenance works.
• To cover the expenses for the survey of the property that is the subject matter of the concession
• To comply with the applicable law and regulations
• To allow inspections by the authority
• To build only the approved constructions
• To evict and deliver the federal zone at the end of the term of the concession

8. Can I lose the Federal Zone Concession?

a. Yes, the Federal Zone concession is terminated for the following reasons:
• End of term of the concession.
• Fulfillment of purpose of the concession, or impossibility to fulfill it.
• Death of concessionary.
• Dissolution, winding up and bankruptcy of the concessionary corporation.
• Loss of the property that is subject matter of the concession
• Expressed waiver by the concessionary.
b. Yes, the Federal zone concession is revoked for the following reasons
• Sub-concession, lease, encumbrance or performance of any act or contract entitling a third party to the rights provided in the concession, or execution of actions, legal or factual, that may change the conditions of the concession.
•To carry out any construction activity not provided by the concession, without the approval of the authority.
• Failure to settle two continuous payments of governmental fees provided in the concession.
• Performing or allowing the performance of criminal acts within the federal zone.
• Opposition or obstruction by the concessionary, its relatives or employees to authority inspections.
• Failure to fulfill the obligations provided by law and the title of the concession.
• Violation or breach of the laws, regulations or the conditions provided in the concession by the concessionary.

9. Apart from the legal point of view, which are the benefits of having a Federal Zone?

• More important than anything else: By having a Federal Zone, you can protect the area that adjoins your property for environmental purposes, therefore, you can save a small piece of our planet.
• No merchant (motorcycles, horseback riding, parachuting, jet skiing, massages, food vendors, etc.) can obtain a permit to run a business in the Federal Zone if a concession to use it has already been granted.
• In a certain way, the value of your property can be increased, considering that you have a concession over the Federal Zone, not forgetting that you will not own the Federal Zone and that in order to transfer its rights, it shall be necessary to obtain a permit from the environmental authority.

Nowadays, a lot of service providers offer their services for securing a concession over a federal zone. There is a wide range of fees and time tables available and best to seek an attorney for professional advice and who can best be able to explain to you in advance the following aspects: Requirements, costs to be incurred, timetables, restrictions, terms, etc., and also, it is important that you receive copies of all the documentation so adequate and regular follow-ups to your application can be made, until its final completion.