Monday, March 30, 2015

A Gringo in Mexico’s 10 Travel Warnings for Baja California

Thinking of visiting Baja California? Check out our advisories before you go.

BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO – I’m often asked by stateside friends about our family’s experiences traveling in and around Baja California. We drive just south of the border from San Diego 2-3 times a month for weekend stays on the beaches of Rosarito Beach and Ensenada, great food and wine in the Valle de Guadalupe, art and culture in Tijuana and to check out other Baja California destinations and bring the story back to you, our readers. We enjoy sharing tales of our adventures and of course always encourage our amigos and amigas to visit for themselves or join us on a tour.

However, travel is never without its detours and potentially life-changing experiences. To make sure you get the most out of your trip, here are El Gringo’s 10 travel warnings to keep in mind when visiting Baja California…

1. You will be exposed to new and interesting cultures.

From the indigenous Kumiai to migrant families from all over Mexico, visiting Baja California may expose you to new and interesting people, food and cultures.

2. You may develop a decreased tolerance for boring wines.

The Valle de Guadalupe supplies 90% of the vino consumed in Mexico. It’s also home to a burgeoning artisanal wine scene that is producing some imaginative and delicious blends.

3. Street food.

El Gringo knows that street food in Baja can be scary – scary good! From adobada (marinated pork) tacos and carne asada tortas in Tijuana to ceviche tostadas in Ensenada, there are many delicious and inexpensive options.

4. Tijuana has a graffiti problem.

Not really, but the city does boast a lot of thoughtfully rendered street art. Check out Pasaje Rodriguez, Avenida Revolución, Playas Tijuana and the parking lot/street art gallery at restaurant Verde y Crema for just a taste.

5. Friendliness is contagious.

Baja Californians are notoriously friendly and typically easy-going. Locals welcome visitors with warmth and are always ready to help you with recommendations and directions to their favorite restaurant or cantina.

6. You will develop an aversion to frozen seafood.

Baja California has an abundance of fresh seafood. Fish and shellfish from the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez are found everywhere from vendors on the beach to several of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in Baja California.

7. You may notice an Increased tendency to relax.

The sound of rolling waves through an open window at night. A glass of wine in a vineyard on a warm summer afternoon. Baja California has a reputation for relaxation. If not alert, you may experience a siesta. In a hammock.

8. You may be bitten by the Foodie Bug.

Tijuana, Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe have become culinary hotspots on an international scale. You may not be able to resist taking a shot of that perfectly plated dish and posting it to Instagram before devouring it.

9. You will experience spontaneous occurrences of fun.

Baja California provides its tranquillo moments, but the peninsula knows how to have fun too. FACT: There are more festivals than days of the year in Baja California – from the Rosarito Art Fair to the Baja California Culinary Fest.

10. You will develop an urge to return.

El Gringo’s señora is fond of saying that a single day in Baja California feels like three. Living in Southern California makes it easy for us to visit south of the border often. And we suggest that you do the same. Just heed these 10 travel warnings and it’s sure to be a great experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Market Conditions and Farm Labor...

Wise judgement in lieu of a general fiasco
BCNoticias | Cesar Esparza

Nothing so hinders community development as the closed minded approach to negotiations and agreements on the parts of certain special interests.
The subject of the agricultural activity in San Quintin Valley is complicated, with each one seeing a different color in the rainbow which best suits them.

However, there are undeniable realities that must be addressed responsibly, leaving aside phobias and aversions, partisanship, politics and any other topic that furthers the social and economic decay in the region.

And the issues are clear; on the one hand are the agricultural laborers, who for decades in many parts of Mexico and the world have undergone practically been sentenced to live a reality for anyone who is not a laborer, is simply an unbearable reality.

That is a truth, a reality and alive today in San Quintin, Michoacán, Zacatecas and in many countries worldwide.

But - comes the famous but. Who is it that exploit, mistreat and maintain agricultural laborers under these conditions in the San Quintin Valley? All of the growers? No, that's a fallacy because their business operations, mainly with the United States, do not allow that.

What I refer to is that the customers of the largest producers of the San Quintin Valley, those who hire at least 70% of the laborers in that area, could not sell to their customers by having children working in the fields or maintain them below what is set by Mexican labor law.

That is the law and that is how it works, it's a market subject, going beyond any humanitarian situation or moral dilemma. It is a simple matter of market aconditions and the equation is simple, and I repeat; if large rural Ag business entrepreneurs of the San Quintin Valley do not meet all the guidelines mandated by Mexican law and if they have children working on their packaging, simply have nowhere to sell their products and they are multi-million dollar operations.

It is worth noting that the same international retail chains, which are clients of agricultural producers in the San Quintin Valley who are today scorned as the devil incarnate, come down to Baja California and perform audits. If the companies are found in non-compliance, they simply do not buy from them.

Under this premise, then, 70% of agricultural workers in the Valley of San Quentin, especially those who work in companies belonging to the Agricultural Council of California and even other large growers who are not members, enjoy all the protections granted by law to perform their daily work.

Now, as far as if they should be earning more, if the minimum wage is very low, that is now talking about the law, not directly the farmers themselves. That is determined by the guidelines established by the federal government, from the National Minimum Wage Commission who determine the minimum daily salary necessary to cover the basic cost of living for workers.

And so, before all of the hard data and in spite of the fact that 70% of agricultural workers in the San Quintin, again I emphasize, enjoy all the benefits granted them by the law, through companies who by majority are complying with the law see that after 11 days, economic losses for the state, getting worse with each passing day of production of farming activity for the valley, harming investments, cutting jobs and opportunities for all, both for farm laborers and business.

And after all the heated statements, slander, insults and aggression, at the end of the day thee same businessmen decide to propose a 15% increase in wages for their workers, in an attempt to provide a way to keep the local economy working.

The reality of that 15% pay increase will affect several other direct, percentage based costs for the growers as this will also increase the taxes for IMSS, which in turn will reduce their ability for reinvestment and for labor recruitment next season.

For now this is the way it will be, a bad deal if that's what you want to cal it, where everyone wins, restarting the local economy and putting a stop to the loss of millions of dollars in daily production by vested interests and partisan politics which harm society as a whole.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SAN QUINTIN: Talks between growers and farm labor break down...

The ongoing talks between farm labor and the growers here in the San Quintin Valley reached an impasse, with the growers now holding firm on what they report to be their best offer of 10% increase in minimum pay which would equate to an increase up to 132 pesos, about $8.80 USD per day. The farm laborers came down to 270 pesos per day, about $18 USD per day but the two sides remain far apart. In respone, the farm laborers representatives have left the negotiating table and currently are conducting peaceful marches along several section of the Baja California trans-peninsular highway in response, taking one side of the highway and leaving only one lane to pass. Police are escorting the marches to ensure the safety of the demonstrators and ensure things don't escalate. Along with the marches, a growing crowd is congregating at the Centro de Gobierno in San Quintin...



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Understanding the San Quintin Farm Labor Strike

We wanted to show ourselves for who we are: Farm workers
La Jornada Baja California | By Olga Alicia Aragon

San Quintin, March 21st - "We wanted to show ourselves for who we are and that everyone would see the laborers are men and women of flesh and blood; not only just the hands working in the fields. We have a face, name and family; we are tens of thousands, because with us are our children, laborers as were our parents," said Fidel Sánchez Gabriel, one of the leaders of the largest farm workers movement ever recorded in the Valley of San Quintin, the south of Ensenada.

He bluntly added: "We wanted to show our strength."

The leader of the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice explained the strategic action to block for more than 26 hours 120 kilometers of the transpeninsular highway and went on strike, which still continues in the agricultural ranches in this region since the 17th of this month.

Will the effort be enough to achieve their demands?

"It is our hope to make them understand that we are 80,000 who through our work generate a great wealth throughout the San Quintin Valley. Individually they see us as weak, but now they know we are very strong because we are many and we are united ".
They have already achieved something unprecedented: the three levels of government are now sitting down at the table and discussing their demands in a dialog to reach some agreement.

"We felt cheated because since last year Governor Francisco Vega de LaMadrid made us believe that we would have this dialogue, without any intention on keeping his word," said Gabriel Sánchez, who said that since January, state officials did not respond even to the request for an audience with the governor.

"None of this would have happened if the government had paid any attention," he said referring to the roadblock and mobilization of laborers, but also the vandalism carried out by people who took the opportunity to loot shops and, according to the delegate of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI), Juan Malagamba Zentella - also by small groups of hooligans linked to unions like the CTM and the CROC.
Because of that, Thursday night when the governor finally showed up for a brief 30 minute visit to the negotiating table in San Quintin, he received a cool response and complaints by the farm workers.

"People are pissed," said another of the movement's leaders in large assembly that took place in a field at San José Copala, 20 kilometers north of San Quintin, to distance himself from the agitators and vandals who reportedly continued to commit to create problems after the looting of markets and destruction of businesses the day before.
In this struggle, tens of thousands of agricultural workers of all ages are involved, from the elderly to teenagers, and many mestizo and indigenous women from various ethnic groups, mostly Mixtec and Triqui; some women are dressed in their long red dresses and carrying their young children as they walk.

Three generations of laborers, many of them originating in Oaxaca, Michoacan, Guerrero, Chiapas and Sinaloa, but with children born here in Baja California.
During the protests that began on Tuesday the 17th, in Spanish and in their native languages they chant and shout slogans formed from a list of demands and brings memories of the days of "porfirismo" - a time period from over a hundred years ago when president Porfirio Díaz, a dictator who held power for 35 years, established economic policies that lead to greater economic growth but reinforced the hacienda-peon socioeconomic structure, eventually leading to the Mexican revolution lead by Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and others.

They demand the breaking of the collective bargaining agreements signed by the unions CTM and CROC with the farmers' association, "for the serious violations of labor laws and human rights"; IMSS health and retirement benefits, one day off a week, eight-hour work day with overtime and holiday pay, as due them by current law; salary increases; an end to discrimination and mistreatment of workers and sexual harassment of women by the foremen.

Day laborers are asking for 30 pesos ($2USD) per box of picked strawberries because since 2001 are paid only 10 to 12 pesos (<$1USD), without earning a penny more on Sundays or holidays; 17 pesos (~$1.10USD) per jar of blackberry and 8 pesos (~$0.50USD) per bucket of tomatoes. "There are ranches where they pay us a one peso (<$0.07USD) per box," says one laborer, a courageous woman pent up with anger who has worked picking for 20 years in the fields.

The size of the surprise

The movement of agricultural laborers from the southern region of the municipality of Ensenada, exploded at three in the morning on Tuesday, March 17th and reached historical proportions, surprising all three levels of government, the police, military forces, the powerful farm owners, businessmen and the entire community.

For two consecutive days they controlled the entire region of the San Quintin Valley, holding the blockades set up along the transpeninsular highway for more than 26 hours.
Burned patches remain along those 120 kilometers, evidence remaining of the burning tires and blockades of stones placed along more than fifty points of the highway that stretched from Ensenada to La Paz, from the Ejido Eréndira turnoff to Santa Maria, near Rancho Los Pinos, kilometer markers 80 to 210 of the Ensenada-La Paz route.

In the course of that huge stretch, you can get lost just watching the landscape of vast plantations of strawberries, tomatoes and various vegetables, without discovering one laborer working in any of those fields where 20 of the largest producers of various vegetable ranches are located and from where 80 percent of the tomatoes and strawberries grown in the region are exported to the United States.

Prominent among these ranches are Driscoll, a US transnational; Berrymex, the largest foreign landholder between Eréndira and San Quintin; Los Pinos, owned by former secretary of Agricultural Development of Baja California and compadre of former President Felipe Calderón; Rancho Agricultural Camalú, the Silva family; Rancho Valladolid, owned by Manuel Seamanduras, current State Secretary of Agriculture; Rancho de los Hermanos García, of Camalú, and Rancho Castañeda, owned by the family of the current municipal delegate of Camalú, Juan Manuel Castañeda Cisneros.

The strike was called right at the peak of tomato and strawberry picking seasons, two of the most profitable crops that generate tens of thousands of jobs paying poverty level wages and at the same time, a large accumulation of wealth that falls into only a few hands.

This region produces 85,000 metric tons of strawberries per year, with a yield of 46.7 tons per hectare, the highest in the country, according to information from the State Agricultural Development.

On Friday, some laborers returned to the fields to pick. Fidel Sanchez says that 10 percent of the 80,000 out on strike went back to work at the request of the farm owners and "as a gesture of goodwill to avoid allowing the crops to completely spoil," but the general strike continues, until an agreement is signed at the negotiating table.

Slowly, business and services are getting back to normal in southern Baja California, where demonstrations of farm laborers paralyzed the local economy since early morning Tuesday the 17th until Thursday 19th at noon.

All that time, commercial business activity stopped. Restaurants and almost every business, from banks to the local abarrotes (small neighborhood stores) were all closed. Gas stations weren't operating, government offices were closed and many of the local authorities and police disappeared for much of that time, schools were closed from preschool to the local universities.

"Nothing like this had ever happened before. There was no government response to help anyone", said Don Basilio Hernández, owner of the El Reloj Market, of the northern valley region community of Camalú, that was looted and destroyed by vandals over a period of nine hours without any government intervention whatsoever.
The farm workers call to stop working, had stopped everything.…/quisimos-mostrarnos-como-somos-jornal…

Monday, March 23, 2015

Farm Worker Strike in San Quintin, Baja California

Baja farmworkers' strike crimping US supplies

Thousands of laborers in the San Quintin Valley 200 miles south of San Diego went on strike  Tuesday, leaving the fields and greenhouses full of produce that is now on the verge of rotting. Though they stopped blocking the main highway to export markets, the road remains hard to traverse as rogue groups stop and, at times, attack truck drivers. ‘

Juan Oliva, Del Cabo’s operations manager said several trucks had been delayed, causing damage to shipments of zucchinis and cherry tomatoes. Del Cabo’s farms are located in southern Baja California, but must usually go through San Quintin to reach export markets.

Costco reported that organic strawberries are in short supply because about 80% of the production this time of year comes from Baja California. At the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, importers reported shortages of tomatoes and chile peppers. Produce market stalls in Tijuana were also affected.

Negotiations were set to re-launch Friday afternoon, and farmworker leaders expressed some optimism. They said the government had agreed late Thursday to let them break away from unions that they say favor the interests of growers over pickers.

Leaders are now moving to establish their own union specifically for farmworkers that will enable them to negotiate directly with agribusinesses. Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega de Lamadrid drew praise for showing up at the negotiations at a San Quintin restaurant on Thursday.

He pledged his support, but some laborers remained skeptical, saying that a massive strike had been necessary to focus the governor’s attention on labor issues that had been festering for years.

The clash could be an early test of a new alliance of produce industry groups dedicated to improving conditions for farmworkers in Mexico.

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Move to the Baja California, Mexico Peninsula...

A Few Definitions to start:
NOB = North Of the Border = USA and Canada
INM = The Federal Mexican Immigration Office/Agency
Menaje de casa = The paperwork required to take your household belongings to México duty free.

How do I get a visa for México?

There are three kinds of visas – Visitante, Residente Temporal. and Residente Permanente.  Each comes in several verities, but we will only be concreted with the general, non-working forms.

Visitante is the common tourist visa that is issued as you enter the country and which you must turn in as you exit the country.  It is the new replacement for the FMM. It is good for a maximum of 180 days.  It cannot be renewed.  If you wish to stay more than 180 days, you will have to return to the border, turn in your expiring Visitante and get a new one.  There is a persistent myth that you cannot do that - only one per year.  That is bunk.

If you fly into México, you will be given the simple Visitante visa form on the plane where you can fill it out between bumps, so you’ll have it ready for immigration when you get off the plane.  The cost is included in the price of your ticket.  If you walk, drive or boat into México, you will be given the form at the immigration office.  You will have to pay a charge of about US$25.  You'll have to pay at a bank.  Some border offices have a bank near-by, most don't.  If your stay is no more than 7 days, you do not need to pay.

Visitante Visa Fees

Visitante visa without permission to engage in gainful activity $306 pesos
Visitante visa with permission to engage in gainful activity $2,350 pesos

In addition to the tourist form of the Visitante Visa, there many other versions for business, transit, etc.  At the border or airport, the INM agent will ask the purpose of your visit and give you the appropriate Visa.  This is a tremendous simplification of the old procedures for business people.

Everyone entering the country by air must fill out a Visitante Visa form, if you already have an existing visa, as they use it for statistical purposes. You should keep your part of the form to turn in next time you leave the country.  If you have a Residente card, you must be sure that you or the INM agent marks your FMM with the kind of card you have - Residente Temporal or Residente Permanente.  This VERY VERY important.

Residente Temporal:

If you plan to stay in México for something more than 180 days up to the rest of your life, you want an Residente Temporal.  It’s a little harder to come by and costs more than a Visitante, but it is good for four years – renewed each year with a small amount of paperwork. You will be issued a little plastic ID card. Useful in opening a bank account, signing up for utility services, etc.

Residente Permanente does not expire thus never needs to be renewed.  It gives one all the privileges of citizenship except the right to vote, hold political office or to own property in the restricted zones.

Applying at a Consulate: 

You MUST apply for your first Residente visa at a Mexican consulate in your home country or in a country where you are a legal resident.  You cannot change from Visitante to a Residente while in México.  This rule applies to first time applications for both Residente Temporal and Residente Permanente.

When you apply at a consulate, the actual card will not be issued at that time.  You will get the card from the INM office after you arrive in your new home.  After receiving your application and fee payment, the consulate will attach a special visa form into your passport.  With this attachment, you will have 180 days to make your move to México.  Once you arrive in México, you will have only 30 days to go to the INM office in your city to complete the application process for your Resident Visa.

When you cross the border after the consular visit, you will need to have the visa form in your passport stamped at the INM office at the border crossing into Mexico. This is not a regular tourist visa, rather it is a special document for your immigration situation/process.  Be absolutely, positively sure that the agent writes or marks CANJE on the FMM. That means you will be exchanging your border paperwork for the final paperwork at INM.

When you present your documents at the INM office, they will want you to bring a filled out application form and a Formato Básico.  Instructions for these two  online forms are here.  They will want 2 front and 1 right side infantile size color pictures with no jewelry. They will also want proof of address, usually a utility bill or letter from your landlord.

If you are applying for  a Residente Temporal, you will only be allowed to buy a one-year permit.  At the end of the first year at renewal, you will be allowed to buy a multi-year card if you wish.

The Family Plan allows other members of a family to receive a Residente card without having to show financial means after the head of the family has met the financial requirement for him/herself.

It works like this:  The head of the family secures a Residente card (Temporal or Permanente).  The rest of the family enters with Visitants. Then each member fills out all the application paperwork, gets photos, passport copies, etc.  Take all this to the INM and apply as a family.  There will be more paperwork at the office.

You should bring your marriage certificate.  If you have minor children, you should bring their birth certificates.  These documents will need an apostille.  You will need to make a separate online application and Formato Básico for each dependent including children.  Again, be sure to save the file numbers.


There are a few special cases where one is allowed to change from Visitante to Residente at an INM office in México. They are Vinculo Familiar, refugees and changes from student visas

Income Requirements

The Residente Temporal income requirement  is a monthly income from outside México equal to 300 times the basic minimum wage in México City.  For 2015 the min wage is $70.10 pesos.   So the min monthly income requirement for one person in 2015 is $21,030 pesos. See the note below for the family plan.
300 x $70.10 = $21,030MXN, about $1,400USD at 15:1 exchange rate

The financial requirement can also be met by submitting an original and copy of proof of investments or bank accounts with average monthly balance  equivalent to five thousand days of general minimum wage during the last twelve months.
5,000 x $70.10 = $350,500MXN about $23,500USD at 15:1 exchange rate

The Residente Permanente income requirement is a monthly income from outside México equal to 500 times the basic minimum wage in México City.  For 2015 the min wage is $70.10 pesos.  (It goes up a little each January.)  So the min monthly income requirement for one person in 2015 is $35,050MXN.  See the note below for the family plan.
500 x $70.10 = $35,050MXN, about USD$2,350 at 15:1 exchange rate

The financial requirement can also be met by submitting proof of one of the following:

Original and copy of proof of investments or bank accounts with an average monthly equivalent to twenty-five thousand days of general minimum wage during the last twelve months.
25,000 x $70.10 = $1,752,500MXN about $117,000USD at 15:1 exchange rate

Original and copy of written proof from a Notario confirming that you own real property or have trustee rights, with a value equal to forty thousand days of the minimum wage.
40,000 x $70.10 = $2,804,000MXN, about $187,000USD at 15:1 exchange rate.

There are other options that apply to large-scale businesses or investments.  These are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Checking on the progress of your application can done from this website.  The Pieza is your application ID number.  The INM office will give you the Contraseña (password) and the NUT numbers when they accept your papers.  After you enter the Pieza and Contraseña, click on Buscar, and a new page will come up asking you to select the NUT -- probably only one choice.  Then all the particulars of your application will appear.

Moving your stuff to México

What can I bring?  Basically it's your household goods and personal effects.  As stated in Article 90 of the Mexican Customs Law, all items must be used personal items and furniture of a house, such as clothes, books, furniture, appliances, computers, entertainment electronics, musical instruments, and artwork.  The artwork must not constitute complete collections for the installation of expositions or an art gallery.

You may also include scientific instruments and tools that are needed for your profession or hobby.  The scientific instruments and tools that you bring cannot form complete equipment for the installation of laboratories, clinics or workshops.

Medical equipment such as a wheelchair, a blood pressure or sugar monitor, oxygen generator, etc, are duty free.  Most medicines in reasonable quantities are allowed.  The meds should be in the original pharmacy packaging with the doctor's name.  Schedule 2 and 3 drugs are much more iffy, and you absolutely must have a doctor's prescription.

What can I not bring?  Most important on that list are guns and ammunition.  México is very strict about these.  A single bullet will land you in jail.

You cannot bring fresh or frozen food, including cheese.  Packaged and canned goods are usually allowed.  Fresh or dried plants and plant material including spices and seeds are prohibited.

The Move

When moving your household belongings to your new home in México, you have two  choices – use a moving company or do it in your own vehicle, perhaps pulling a trailer.   You cannot take a rental truck into México legally with only a few exceptions, so you must use your own vehicle in order to do it yourself. Also, the customs agents typically are much stricter with large moving vans vs trailers towed behind vehicles.

You will have to pay an import duty on many of the items – furniture, dishes, appliances, etc.  Personal items and a few other things are duty-free. Like everything in Mexico, nothing is set in stone and you may find that you could be waved through after a quick inspection or have to pay a small amount of duty. My advice is to make sure that nothing has price stickers or in their original boxes looking like brand new. New items get looked at much closer and will bring a higher duty vs "used".

Menaje de Casa

The government will give you a one-time-only wavier of the import  duties.  A Menaje de Casa allows you to move your used household belongings to México without paying any import duties. (Note the word “used” defined as at least six months old.)

You will get it from the same person who fixed your Residente Temporal..  Rules for preparing the Menaje sometimes vary among the consulates; so get the instructions on your first visit.

The Menaje consists of two parts – the list that you prepare and a cover letter from the consulate.  More about the list later.

While the Menaje is a good deal, you might not want it if you are moving only a few items.  If the total value of your dutiable items is less than $3,000 dollars, a Menaje would not be cost effective.  For amounts over $3,000 and for a moving company, a Menaje is the way to go.

The value is the reasonable re-sale value, not the new or replacement cost.

Taking your Menaje stuff across the border yourself is not as easy as it sounds. You can pull a trailer behind a pickup or van, so it is possible to bring quite a bit of stuff.  If you do, you'll have to engage the services of a customs broker to walk the paper work through Mexican Customs.  I’ve talked to some people who have been through this, and their experiences vary from a minor nuisance to a major hassle.  I recommend this do-it-yourself approach only if you speak Spanish fairly well. (If you use a trailer, it will be listed on your vehicle permit.  You'll need proof of ownership.  It does not have to have plates.)

Somewhere along the planning for a move to México, one really should carefully address the question of moving the household furnishings vs. having a giant garage sale, move to México with personal items and a few treasures that will fit in your vehicle, and buy all new for a new life in a new land.  What you save by not doing the big move + the yard sale could  very well furnish a house here.

If your spouse is a Mexican citizen

If you are married to a Mexican who is employed in México, you can get a Residente Temporal Familiares without having to show an income from outside México.  Go to your local INM office to get instructions.

You will need your birth certificate with an apostle and your marriage certificate.  If you were married outside México, your certificate will need an apostle and should be registered at city hall before going to INM.

After living in México for two years with this visa, you can apply for citizenship if you wish.

With a tip of the hat to my dear friend Rolly...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bahia Balandra, La Paz - Mushroom Rock

Bahia Balandra is one of those must see locations if fate or vacations travels should ever bring you to the La Paz, Baja California Sur area of Mexico. This is one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Clean white sandy beaches with shallow, crystal clear water that are perfect for family outings, snorkeling, kayaking and just simply catching some rays on the beach with a cooler by your side.

The beaches on the inner bay are as safe as it gets for kids but you still need to be aware as there are not regularly posted lifeguards there. A set of three, inner-bay beaches fill this part of the bay, with the innermost part of the bay being a mangrove, rich in marine and bird life. Famous for the mushroom shaped rock that balances on a very thin base, sitting at the end of the second beach on the parking lot side. It is the furthest out most people go, though there is another great beach on that side of the bay and best navigated during lower tides as there is a bit of rocky passage between the two. Making it out to the last beach within the bay can usually allow one their own private beach as very few people routinely go out that far. There are palapas (palm thatched shady areas) on the first two beaches, but none on the third. There is a great rock overhang as you enter that last beach. At the end of the bay one can climb up the trail to the headlands for impressive views of Balandra and across the channel to Espiritu Santos Islands and across the Bay of La Paz. The point there is also a great place to snorkel and kayak.

Balandra Bay is also a Natural Protected Area and may soon be added to the list of World Heritage Bio-Reserves, as are most islands in the Gulf of California / Sea of Cortez now. You have to bring whatever you want with you so remember to bring snacks and drinks. Also bring a bag to pack out all of your trash to help keep this beautiful area pristine for the next visitors. If that is too much of a hassle, the next beach over (Tecalote) does have a few restaurants and various water sports toys, as well as trips to the Islands. 

Another detail you must remember at this beach, and most in Mexico, is to SHUFFLE YOUR FEET when you're on the sand. There are rays - and they will sting you. But if you always shuffle and pay attention, you'll be just fine.

Cabo is Back for Spring Break 2015!

Many of the hotels and resorts in Los Cabos are up and running after the damage from Hurricane Odile last fall. Some still are under reconstruction and here are some tentative opening dates for those of you planning Spring Break vacations:

Grand Mayan Los Cabos. Partly opened Feb. 7. Full reopening expected March 28. Rates after March 28 begin about $375.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos. Accepting reservations for stays beginning July 15. Rates from about $310 per night.

Hyatt Place Los Cabos. Taking reservations for stays beginning July 15. Rates from about $85 a night.

One&Only Palmilla Los Cabos. Reopening April 20. Rates in early May begin at about $790.

Westin Resort & Spa. Reopening Sept. 30. Rooms for two from about $170.

Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort. Taking reservations beginning June 1. Rooms for two in early July from about $210.

Hotel Melia Cabo Real. Taking reservations beginning Dec. 1. Rooms for two in early December begin at about $195, all-inclusive.

Las Ventanas al Paraiso. Accepting reservations beginning June 15. Rates from about $585.

Dreams Los Cabos Suites. Reopening June 1. Rates begin around $469.

Esperanza Resort. Website says reopening March 31. First reservation availability is June 1. Rates begin about $575.…/los-cabos-hotel-reopening-dates.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Troubled Ex-Marine Tahmooressi in trouble again...

Andrew Paul Tahmooressi, the Marine reservist who made international headlines during his seven-month imprisonment in Mexico, was arrested in Georgia. 

Tahmooressi was arrested in Twin City, Georgia, on Wednesday for a traffic violation, carrying an open container and for refusing to take a DUI test, his spokesman said.
"He will be arraigned in the morning," spokesman Jonathan Franks said late Wednesday night. 

Tahmooressi made news around the world after his arrest on March 31, 2014, at a Tijuana, Mexico, checkpoint.

Mexican customs agents found three firearms in his truck, including a .45-caliber pistol, a pump shotgun and an AR-15 rifle. The country's strict federal gun laws prohibit anyone from illegally bringing weapons into the country.

Tahmooressi maintained that he took a wrong turn on the California side of the border into Tijuana and accidentally crossed the border.

In November, after 214 days, he was freed. A Mexican court said it found no cause to prosecute Tahmooressi on charges of carrying two firearms used exclusively by the military, possessing cartridges used exclusively by the military and carrying a firearm without a license

The court also recommended he be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Wednesday night, Tahmooressi was pulled over in Twin City, about 180 miles southeast of Atlanta.

"We are aware that Andrew Tahmooressi is under arrest for various traffic related offenses," his family said in a statement. "The family again reminds all he is suffering from a significant mental illness and respectfully requests privacy. We all remain committed to getting him the help he needs."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

US President Polk wanted Baja peninsula as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

On March 10, 1848, the Senate approved a treaty that led to California and much of the Southwest joining the United States. But the man who negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was promptly fired on his return to Washington.

Nicholas Phillip Trist was the chief clerk to Secretary of State James Buchanan, and he was sent to Mexico in 1847 to work with General Winfield Scott to negotiate a settlement in the Mexican-American War. Trist had accompanied General Winfield Scott as a diplomat and President Polk's representative. Trist and General Scott, after two previous unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a treaty with General José Joaquín de Herrera, determined that the only way to deal with Mexico was as a conquered enemy. Nicholas Trist negotiated with a special commission representing the collapsed government led by Don Sezok Couto, Don Miguel de Atristain, and Don Luis Gonzaga Cuevas of Mexico.

Trist was a curious choice to play such a critical role. He was a Virginia aristocrat who lived in Louisiana, and then returned to Virginia to marry Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter. Trist was the private secretary to Jefferson, and then to President Andrew Jackson.
But Trist was caught up in controversy when he served as the U.S. counsel in Cuba, where he faced British allegations of favoring the slave trade that still existed there. Trist lost his diplomatic position when the Whigs won election in 1840, but he stayed with his family in Cuba until President James Polk named him as clerk to Secretary of State Buchanan in 1845.
On May 13, 1846, the United States Congress declared war on Mexico after a request from President Polk.
The conflict centered on the Republic of Texas, which opted to join the United States in late 1845 after establishing its independence from Mexico a decade earlier. The U.S. also tried to buy Texas and what was called “Mexican California” from Mexico, which was seen as an insult in Mexico, before war broke out.
Mexico considered the annexation of Texas as an act of war, and after border skirmishes, President Polk asked for a war declaration. In the fighting that followed, the mostly volunteer United States military secured control of Mexico after a series of battles that lasted for about one year and a half.
In April 1847, Buchanan ordered Trist to go to Mexico when the American victory became apparent. When Mexico City fell to United States troops in September 1847, Trist began peace talks with three Mexican negotiators from that nation’s troubled government. 
However, Polk wanted the talks to take place in Washington, and he sent orders to Mexico that Trist was recalled as the treaty negotiator. During the six weeks it took for Polk’s orders to make their way to Trist, the diplomat realized he had a brief period to negotiate a treaty with the unstable government in Mexico.
So Trist ignored the recall order and negotiated terms that allowed the United States to buy California (north of the Baja Peninsula), as well as what amounted to half of Mexico’s territory for $15 million.
On February 2, 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in Mexico without President Polk’s knowledge. Trist sent a copy of the treaty by the fastest means possible to Polk.
The President was outraged not only at Trist’s insubordination, but that the treaty didn’t even cede more of Mexico’s property to the United States. (Polk wanted Baja California and property to the Baja’s east as part of the deal and had communicated that desire to Trist before negotiations began.)
Polk made the decision to accept the Treaty as written and sent it to the Senate for confirmation, where it was approved by a 34-14 vote and over the objections of abolitionists who feared that slavery would expand into the former Mexico territories.
On Trist’s return to Washington, he was promptly fired by Polk and denied any salary payments earned during treaty negotiations.
Trist’s political career was over at that point, and he took a series of office jobs for the next 22 years. In 1871, Trist got his back pay when he was appointed postmaster of Alexandria, Virginia, during the Grant administration.
He died on February 11, 1874 as a forgotten figure in one of the most significant moments in American history.

UCLA students reach out to help those living on the edge at the border...

Martin Lopez Vasquez holds up his right hand to eye level. His ring finger crooks forward, and just above the bottom knuckle are two black, jagged circles, where he was bitten by a rattlesnake years ago. The 61-year-old is unemployed now, but at the time, he had taught himself how to hunt poisonous reptiles for local buyers.

“You can’t afford to hesitate,” he explains in gravelly Spanish. “If they see you, they will start to rattle, and that’s when they attack.” 

Vasquez is at an open market in Maclovio Rojas, Mexico, for basic medical services. Every other Saturday, UCLA students set up a free health clinic in this impoverished community on the eastern fringe of Tijuana. The students have no medical training, and they operate without the supervision of the university.

But for many residents, the students' offerings of free vitamins, blood pressure checks and healthy-living advice are a rare chance to get help. "Thanks to God," Vasquez says, "we can get this free treatment."

Maclovio Rojas is a squatter village dating to the late 1980s, when poor farmers began erecting nonpermitted shanties. The elementary school uses a dilapidated Airstream trailer as a makeshift lounge, and a bodega is supported by worn-down wooden beams. The Mexican government sought to take over the illegal town, but defiant villagers fought back. The government cut off their water and power — and residents stole electricity by running wires underground.

Its location on a major drug-trafficking route spawned violence that prompted UCLA administrators in 2010 to issue a travel advisory warning about Maclovio Rojas, and the UCLA Daily Bruin reported, "When night falls ... women and children stay inside, while men only step outdoors in large groups and in familiar areas."

In 2009, some 300 corpses were discovered in Maclovio Rojas, dissolved in acid and deposited in a pit. The liquefied remains had been disposed of by a man known as El Pozolero, or "the stew maker," working for the Arellano Félix cartel.

With its strife-filled history, Maclovio Rojas' residents aren't necessarily focused on preventive health care. But that's what Fellowship for International Service & Health students at UCLA hope to provide.

A student-run organization, FISH sends about a dozen undergrads at a time across the border to check residents' vital signs, offer free vitamins and help those without access to information they need. The students, whose majors range from pre-med to communications, are not able to provide actual medical care.

This fact has raised eyebrows. "My dad said for a while he questioned the effectiveness of trips like this," says sophomore Jackleen Lee, whose father is a doctor. "Like, how much can we do? But it's better to do this than nothing at all."

On a recent Saturday, the students departed Westwood at 4:30 a.m., most spending the first two hours of the drive asleep on one another's shoulders, earphones shoved in their ears, awakening as the scenery started to morph from La Jolla opulence to border-town grit.

"So, Tijuana," one girl said. "Is that the area before the border?"

It's the first time some have crossed the border, passing by guards with AK-47s. But not German Lavenant, born in San Diego to Mexican parents. Most of his family lives in Tijuana, and he's the first one to attend college. His parents are undocumented.

"My mom lost her right to cross [the border] five years ago," says the studious 20-year-old, "and my dad hasn't been home in 20 years. His friends will invite him to stuff and he always has to play off an excuse — once he comes back to Mexico, he can't get back in."

His family closely followed President Obama's immigration plan, which is expected to be signed into law by Obama. The plan won't necessarily protect Lavenant's parents, but the shift in American consciousness "had more of an emotional impact on my family," he says.

"They've always had to watch their backs, but it took the weight off their shoulders. They're relieved."

The students set up shop in Maclovio Rojas under a sweltering sun. The smell of sizzling pork thickens the air around a nearby taco stand. A booth next to UCLA's, hawking electronics, is blaring Pitbull's "Ah Leke": "The world is my block, the globe is my home."
Clad in blue T-shirts, the students begin rotating among stations. In high school Spanish, two call out: "Una clinica gratis!" Interested parties fill out a short intake form, then have their vital signs assessed before waiting to speak to one of three FISH students fluent in Spanish.

Hector Lerma, a towering 20-year-old student wearing Warby Parker–style glasses, is also first-generation Mexican-American, and lived in Tijuana from age 6 to 11. "We lived a couple of miles from here," Lerma says, gesturing down a dirt road. "I was lucky — we all had running water, we all had Internet."

One of the students' aunts, a registered nurse, has joined the trip. "We always try to bring a medical professional if we can," says Shane Huston, a UCLA senior. The registered nurse is clearly troubled by the range of health problems the group is seeing, from a constipated 11-year-old to a woman with lymphoma.

Even so, in many instances the students do appear make a difference. Carmen Villareal Brindis, a zaftig beauty with honey-colored hair pulled into a ponytail, patiently waited to speak to the nurse, then revealed that she has Type 2 diabetes. The 37-year-old has been trying to monitor her diet. But last year Brindis' husband lost his job, and the family of five lost its health care subsidies. She has been relying on the students to check her glucose and help her decide what to eat. The students have been ready for her.   

"I eat more vegetables and fruit," she says in Spanish, adding with a giggle: "I ate bread today, though. Sometimes I sin!"

To skeptics who wonder how much assistance ideological 18- to 22-year-olds can give, Lavenant says, "We are not there to tell someone they have something wrong with them. We're there to provide information — to educate, to counsel and to guide."

Vasquez, the ex-snake hunter, pulls from his shirt pocket a worn package of pills — codeine and paracetamol for chronic stomach pain. To get an appointment at a local free clinic, he wakes up at 4 a.m. to wait for a doctor who arrives about 8 a.m. He can't always afford the medication's price of 60 to 130 peso ($4 to $9), and the free clinic often doesn't have it.

But he's not here for pills the students can't provide. He wants somebody who has the time to listen. "I lost my memory twice," he says quietly. He wandered off both times, and his family finally found him — days later. "I fear that I will leave the house," he says, "and I don't know if I'll ever come back."

A student translating for Vasquez finally turns her attention to the next person, and Vasquez heads into the crowded market. Before saying goodbye, he considers a final possibility. His son and daughter both live en el otro lado (on the other side), like Lerma and Lavenant.

"I may lose my memory, forget why I'm here," he says with a shy smile, "and go back with you guys."

Monday, March 9, 2015

National Geographic: Ensenada's Fish Tacos are unforgettable...

According to National Geographic's Top 10 Food City search..

"What makes an urban legend? A dish so unforgettable it becomes just as famous as its birthplace..."

And Ensenada, Baja California Mexico made the cut for their world famous fish tacos. 
When the Ensenada market opened in 1958 and began selling fresh, local seafood, the fish tacos became the stuff of legend. Today, foodies flock to Ensenada’s many street stands serving the classic combo of fried fish and shrimp topped with mayo, salsa, and cabbage.

This list was first published in the National Geographic book The World's Best Cities.

Pacific Ocean Sunset at La Chorera...

Sunset from the beach at La Chorera, a small fishing community fronting the Pacific Ocean outside San Quintin in the municipality of Ensenada, Baja California Mexico. Gorgeous weather, clean and quiet beaches and world class sport fishing. 

A Brief (and strange) History of the Salton Sea

An accident spawned a lake. The lake fed water to millions of acres of farmland, and was a booming tourist trap that whithered and died to leave a ghost town in its wake, all in the course of less than a century.

In the Sonoran Desert of southern California there is a valley that, like Death Valley, lies far below sea level. Geology suggests that this valley has been flooded and dried multiple times through the eons, but so far as US history goes, the Salton Sea came into being in 1905. It was an accident stemming from a canal that diverted water from the Colorado River to the agricultural area of the Imperial Valley. There was an overflow, an unplanned change of course, and an inland sea was reborn.

The tributary to the Salton Sea continued fill the fledgling lake, eroding the banks of other nearby lakes, and soon sucking them away, quickly filling the new lake with the liquidy remains. By 1906 it was a fully fledged lake, and surveyors noted that several species of waterfowl and pelicans were nesting in the area. The lake continued to grow until Union Pacific closed the river breach, and cut off the tributary.

So people had inadvertently created an inland sea. The Imperial Valley was still a nearby farming area with big needs, and a new irrigation/drainage lake was on their wish list. The US government put their stamp of approval on the accident by setting the land aside for use by the agricultural industry.

Fish were introduced to the lake, and by 1920 it was a major tourist destination. Sport fishing and speed boats were popular uses of the new lake, but its primary purpose was in full swing about the same time. Pumps sent water out to the Imperial Valley for irrigation.

As with any lake without an outlet, the Salton Sea became salty. The irrigation played a large role, with fresh water pumped up out of the lake, run over the fields where it dissolved salts out of the soil, and then the excess water just flowed downhill, back to the lake to be used again. And salts weren’t the worst of it: pesticides such as DDT and Agent Orange, and residues from fertilizers were mixed in too.

In the 1950s, the Salton Sea was a greater tourist draw than Yosemite National Park. In the same era the water was too saline to support the freshwater fish that had been there, and saltwater fish were introduced instead. More canals were opened to more farmland—which only exacerbated the problem. Come 1960 the Salton Sea even had a yacht club, but at the same time California’s Fish and Game Commission announced that they feared the Salton Sea would be dead within fifteen years.

It wasn’t until 1986 that California announced that everyone should restrict the consumption of fish caught in the Salton Sea for fear of their toxicity levels. By then however, the rest was history. The saline levels had spawned an algal bloom—a sudden increase in phytoplankton algae—that had a profound smell … some described it as rotten eggs, or (and this is my favorite) “puke on a hot sidewalk”. By the seventies the resorts and tourists were history, and it was relegated to use only as irrigating and a wildlife preserve—the latter largely because of the population boom that devoured all the wetlands in the Los Angeles area, and left migrating birds no better place to nest. It turned out to be a less than ideal wildlife preserve; in the nineties there were two separate events of mass bird deaths at the lake.

Presently there are a number of ambitious plans to try to save the Salton Sea. Birds still flock there, unaware of the dangerous chemicals of the water. Most people avoid it. It’s become so polluted that it’s a danger to eat anything that comes from it, and it’s a wildlife preserve.

And it’s only a hundred years old.