Monday, November 23, 2015

Octopus Attacks and Eats Shark

Saturday, November 21, 2015

SCORE 2015 Baja 1000 - Trophy Trucks - San Quintin

2015 SCORE Baja 1000 - Trophy Trucks hauling through the Old Mill (Molino) area of San Quintin. Loud, fast and a bit scary at times but a really fun day with my wife Cristina and good friends. Can't wait to do it again...

2015 SCORE Baja 1000 - Trophy Trucks

Video of first 2 trophy trucks into San Quintin, Baja California Mexico. We were near the Old Mill (Molino Viejo) area with some good friends. Exciting day and good fun...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Baja California Open - New Stop on PGA Mexico


Bajamar is hosting the Baja California Open, the ninth stop and latest addition to the Mexican Golf Tour, part of the PGA Latin American Tour.

The challenging 27 hole oceanfront course designed by Percy Clifford and David Fleming should provide a breathtaking challenge to a field that will include participating professionals from throughout Latin America and the United States with a purse of 1.5 million pesos. 

2015 Baja 1000 Start & Course Maps

Official start of the SCORE 2015 Baja 1000
Ensenada, Baja California Mexico
November 20, 2015 6:00 AM

Race Course Maps

Northern & Southern Halves
(click on map to enlarge)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Faces from the Border: The Devil Is on the Loose

Along Highway 83, in South Texas, is a stretch of lonely land, a curving corridor dotted with abandoned villages and fast-food joints. One of the main arteries of the area known as Los Caminos del Río—the River Roads—cuts alongside the Rio Grande. The area is so isolated, and both sides look so similar, that at times one might have a hard time telling which is Mexico and which is the United States.

On the U.S. side is Laredo. Founded in 1755, Laredo once served as the capital of the rebellious Republic of the Rio Grande, a brief, and ultimately failed, attempt to secede from Mexico, launched, in 1840, by a coalition of insurgents from the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and southwest Texas in opposition to President Antonio López de Santa Anna’s centralist policies.

In 1848 Laredo residents faced a decision. After the Mexican–American War, which ended that year, the United States gave residents in Laredo the choice to either stay on the new U.S. territory, the north side of the Rio Grande, known in Mexico as the Rio Bravo, or to move south of the river to Mexican territory. Some stayed north, not so much out of loyalty to the United States but because they felt attached to the land, regardless of the flag flying over it. Many headed south to start fresh. They took their belongings, their horses and cows; some even went to the local cemetery, dug up the remains of their loved ones, and took them along to be reburied in Mexico in “Nuevo” Laredo. The region became known as Los Dos Laredos.

Today, the economy in Los Dos Laredos depends on trade. It is where Interstate 35, the “NAFTA Highway,” begins. Everything—from fruits, vegetables, TVs, and blow-dryers to stoves, refrigerators, vehicles, and drugs—makes its way from Mexico to the United States at this crossing point.

Here in Laredo is the place where I usually meet Arturo Fontes, fifty-five, who, until recently, spent nearly three decades between San Diego and Laredo hunting down the deadliest capos, or being hunted by those to whom he got too close. Before retiring, in 2013, Fontes spent twenty-six years as an F.B.I. agent investigating up and down the border and into the interior of Mexico. He now works as a private security consultant and with U.S. law-enforcement agencies, investigating cases near U.S. Highway 83 in Texas.

He is a man of few words. His eyes are shifty, and he’s the kind of person who usually gets to the point while cradling two or three phones at a time. He always sits with his back against the wall. We’ve known each other for a few years now, having quickly developed a bond. It was Fontes who, years earlier, had called to tell me, as a foreign correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, that there was a death threat against an American journalist and that he thought that person could be me. I ran for my life, across the border into the U.S., and stayed in constant touch with him. It turned out that the much-feared cartel known as the Zetas had discovered he was passing information to a reporter, me, about its illicit activities. I wasn’t the only one at risk, of course. Fontes began sleeping with a loaded gun by his nightstand after he received word that the leader of the Zetas, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, had put a hit on him, and had even personally called him.

His account was part of a book I wrote, “Midnight in Mexico,” in which Fontes, under a pseudonym, became one of the key characters. Although lately he has been more open with reporters about quoting him by name, this is the first time he is revealing his identity as my source. He does so because he wants to serve as a resource, to let the public know what’s really going on along the border.

Fontes is the son of a man from Sonora and a woman from Colima. They married and settled in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Fontes’s father volunteered to fight for the U.S. in the Second World War, which won him U.S. citizenship. The family settled in San Francisco. As a teen-ager, Fontes played linebacker and halfback for his high-school football team. His dream, he told me, was to one day protect his country. He started as a clerk at the F.B.I., in 1984, the year before the D.E.A. agent Kiki Camarena was abducted and killed. Camarena’s story turned him into a hero. That was an inspiration to Fontes.

Over the years he’s tried convincing me that el diablo anda suelto—the Devil is on the loose—on both sides of the border. Fontes grew up believing that good would outweigh the evil—crime and drugs—seeping in from the south. But now he admits that he is no longer certain this ideal holds true. Both sides of the border are more complicated than he realized. And even though he wasn’t born on the border, he explains, he carries the border with him, feeling more at home and more alive when his feet touch no man’s land.

“I feel both an honor and a responsibility to do my job and to do it in a way that it’s also personal,” he said. “You’re protecting one country, but in a way two countries. Because no matter how loyal and how much I love my country, the United States, you’re directly or indirectly part of two countries. This is the land of my parents and that of other relatives that I still have throughout Mexico, something I don’t forget.”

But no matter how much he tries, he will never be Mexican. He’ll never speak the lyrical sounds of his parents’ native Spanish, or have the stamina to stand by and helplessly watch many massacres—from San Fernando to Villas de Salvárcar to Ayotzinapa—in the country his parents once called home. He’s tried working closely with his Mexican counterparts, only to get burned. Once he shared with a Mexican intelligence official a long dossier about Treviño, only to discover hours later that the man known as Z-40, or Muerte, had possession of the file. And when Fontes developed close ties with counterparts on the Mexican side of the border, things didn’t work as planned. Those he trusted usually disappeared and are presumed dead, many of them victims of Muerte or the Zetas. “I worked the interior of the United States and Mexico, but the border is a different animal, not the type you can tame easily,” he said.

North of Laredo, the road brushes up against Mexico. It’s one of my favorite parts of the border, a throwback to a not-so-distant time when life wasn’t so complicated. Sure, life on the border has never been without conflicts. There were massive “repatriation” campaigns against Mexicans, with or without American citizenship, in the nineteen-thirties and forties. These led to communities on the Mexican border without proper services or infrastructure, a recruiting paradise for illegal activities. Periodic shootings of unarmed Mexicans by the U.S. Border Patrol or illegal excursions by the Mexican military continue to mar ties.

Yet there have been more peaceful periods in the life of the border. There was a time not so long ago when, as an American citizen, I’d cross with a simple wave of the hand and a casual greeting of “American,” without the need to show proof. The border united residents more than it divided them. For instance, in places like the striking Big Bend region—where lofty clouds fall lazily atop mountain ranges—dozens of communities once spread on both sides of the border. Towns were interwoven, cobbled together by tradition and a long economic and cultural thread.

Consider Boquillas del Carmen. At the turn of the twentieth century, Boquillas was founded to serve as a mining town by American entrepreneurs, who relied on Mexican miners to fill buckets with minerals and put them on cable trains and transport them to the U.S. side.

The two sides were intractably linked. Customs checks or immigration policies were not strictly enforced. Mexican firemen would rush across the border to put out fires. On holidays, residents would crisscross nonchalantly. On school days, children from Mexico would cross a makeshift bridge and stand on a dirt road to wait for buses. Neighbors would also cross to buy groceries or pick up their mail. Even smugglers were friendlier to one another, Don Henry Ford, Jr., a Texas rancher who became a smuggler to help pay the farm bills, recalled. For seven years he was an outlaw, doing business—millions of dollars passed through his hands—with the likes of the drug kingpin Pablo Acosta and his protégé Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Ford was caught, in 1985, and, after escaping from prison and being captured again, the next year, he was sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison, though he was paroled after serving five years. (Ford, and Oscar Hagelsieb, whom I wrote about in Part I, are characters in the new documentary film “Kingdom of Shadows.”)

“We were all trying to make a living,” Ford told me. “Not kill one another. That happened, too, but nothing like today.”

According to Ford and many others, the big change came on September 11, 2001. Before then, United States border protection policy was a rather informal, uncoördinated system that fell under various federal departments. They included the Department of Justice (the Immigration and Naturalization Service), the Department of the Treasury (the Customs Service), the Department of Agriculture (the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), and the Department of Transportation (the Coast Guard).

But that ended abruptly after the terrorist attacks. Suddenly, makeshift bridges were torn down. The population of Boquillas dropped from four hundred to a mere seventy people. Communities disappeared, replaced by the sight of Border Patrol agents who lived in so-called temporary man camps, where they took turns sleeping at night, and watching over the meandering waters of the Rio Grande for any suspicious sound or sight of strangers, possibly terrorists, who wanted to attack the United States.

By 2002 the Homeland Security Act brought the diverse agencies guarding the border under one centralized umbrella: the Department of Homeland Security. As a result, the U.S.-Mexico border is now guarded by five main subsidiaries of the D.H.S.: Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Transportation Security Administration. Each of these agencies has a different function, and the C.B.P. is the agency that works actively along the U.S.-Mexico border. The C.B.P. alone has a staff of sixty thousand and a budget of around thirteen billion dollars.

Like many other policies from Washington, this one had unintended consequences. The anthropologist Natalia Mendoza, a fellow at Bard College, observes that, because of greater border securitization, “the cost of smuggling has increased to a point that smugglers can no longer be independent.” That is, as small, autonomous, local “mom and pop” smuggling became more expensive and difficult, bigger, more structured, and violent organizations took over. Common-use crossing points, for instance, were now “privatized” by criminal networks able to keep their operations going, absorb the rising costs, and still make a profit. Hence, groups of smugglers who used to work on their own or as subcontractors for different bosses were either pushed out of business or forced to join a larger cartel. Even if unanticipated, this process of criminal professionalization was a perfectly rational result of border security acquiring “industrial” proportions: with the post-9/11 clampdown, the business of drug smuggling consolidated.

The old and close-knit communities along the border never prevented drug trafficking or illegal crossing. Yet they used to function as a sort of social-control mechanism that kept drug-related violence relatively under check. People knew one another; they kept an eye on things. Suddenly, though, fear and hardened policies broke those bonds. Border communities started resembling ghost towns. The result was a surge of violence in Mexico, as cartels fought to establish dominance over important drug-shipping routes.

According to estimates, the drug trade makes up between half a per cent and four per cent of Mexico’s $1.2 trillion annual G.D.P.—totalling between about six billion dollars and forty billion dollars—and employs at least half a million people. Contraband U.S. guns that are trafficked into Mexico facilitate the drug traffickers’ work. Around two hundred and fifty thousand firearms are purchased each year to be trafficked, and U.S. and Mexican authorities are seizing only about fifteen per cent of them, according to a study by the University of San Diego and Igarapé Institute.

The annual amount of drugs seized on the border has roughly doubled since 2001. Assuming enforcement to be constant, that would mean more drugs have come across. But since border security was ramped up after 2001, things are actually a lot more complicated. “There are many things wrong with U.S. border and drug policies,” Alejandro Hope, a leading Mexican expert on drug policy, said. “But I think it is necessary to avoid clichés and generalizations. The notions that nothing ever works or that full commercial legalization is the only ticket are simply wrong.”

I saw Fontes a few weeks ago, at a bar in Laredo, on Bob Bullock Avenue, lined with eighteen-wheelers loaded with goods roaring north. Fontes seemed less cocky than the last time. He was less sure of himself, slower to respond to questions about border security. The border is once again part of a political campaign, an easy target for politicians who hope to secure the Presidency by scaring the wits out of everyone. It was early afternoon, and we were already on our third drink. We halfway hoped it would help to better understand the border in the post-9/11 era.

So how safe are we? I asked, taking out my phone and notepad to record him.

He shook his head. He doesn’t like gadgets or notepads. They make him nervous. After a while, he forgot about them and opened up. Or maybe the tequila took effect. Well, he went on, the border can be endlessly fortified, sealed with glue, cement, everything to resemble that fantasy of an impenetrable wall some Presidential candidates routinely call for. But then I asked what happens to trade. “Eso está cabrón, carnal,” he answered and grinned. “That’s a tough one, brother.”

So how safe are we? I insisted. “We’re as safe as we’ll ever be … for now,” he replied.

Life on the border, however, is not always subject to reality on the ground, all too often influenced by timing and events far, far away. Yes, the border lives its own form of terrorism, its own warlords fighting for control of drug routes leading to the United States. Nothing, though, compares to random targets of extremist groups and the implications felt near and far.

Indeed, within hours after the attacks on Paris, I called Fontes, who was somewhere near the border. His tone had changed. He sounded weary, cautious, dejected. The fleeting sense of security he had felt was on the mend, broken again.

“After Paris, the need for increased border security will be amplified even more, especially because this is an election year,” he said. “There will be more scrutiny and calls for accountability, vigilance. That’s just part of living on the border, ¿me entiendes? (you understand me?)”

I do, all too well.

Making Chorizo? Don't Have to Use Pork...

In Toluca, what many call the chorizo capital of Mexico, you'll find not just one form of the spicy sausage, but two. Both are heavily spiced, pork-based sausages laden with vinegar, but one, the better known, is stark red. The other is vibrant green, or, as Empellon chef Alex Stupak calls it, "the unusual green herbaceous vegetable cousin." Red chorizo calls for dried chilies and dried spices while the herbaceous cousin uses fresh. Both are heavy on vinegar, both for piquant acidity and to preserve the meat while it cures in Mexico's hot climate.

Stupak loves chorizo for its versatility and how easy it can be to make. Unlike most sausages, it doesn't need to be stuffed into casings. It doesn't need to cure in a carefully maintained room for weeks or months. And since it's more loose than densely packed, it doesn't require ice-cold fat and assiduous grinding technique to make it right. Mexican-style chorizo is the ultimate beginner's sausage: Just toss spices and vinegar with ground pork and let it sit until you're ready to cook.

Or skip the pork entirely. "I’ve made chorizo with duck, octopus, scallops, shrimp," Stupak explains. "For a basic adaptation, you can just sub the protein." Which is what he did at our 6th Annual Saveur Summer Cookout in June. The sausage you see in the photo above isn't made from pork; it's shrimp—lighter than pork, pescatarian-friendly, and perfect for using in other seafood dishes.
Stupak goes the red chorizo route for shrimp ("Shrimp are red," after all). A heavy dose of spices and smoky, guajillo chiles keep this chorizo true-to-form. But he does prefer to keep it encased rather than loose, as often found in tacos. So he stuffs this shrimp chorizo into casings, then slices it before cooking in a skillet for sandwiches.

That stuffing means you have to mind your vinegar. "Vinegar would inhibit the patties from binding," he explains. "So, to supplement that acetic acid flavor, we make a mayonnaise with lots of vinegar in it." Slather that mayo on a bun and lay the sausage slices on thick. It's still the chorizo you know and love, but a concept only someone like Stupak could dream up.



2 tbsp. dried Mexican oregano

2 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
10 cloves garlic
10 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 1⁄2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 egg white
20 oz. peeled and deveined shrimp (about 40), minced


Heat a medium skillet over medium-high; toast oregano, coriander, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, and cinnamon until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a spice grinder and pulse into a fine powder.

Heat skillet over medium and cook garlic and chiles, turning as needed, until blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer chiles to a bowl; cover with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes. Peel garlic and transfer cloves to a food processor along with spice powder, cream, sugar, salt, and egg white. Drain chiles, discarding liquid, and add to food processor; purée until smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl with shrimp and mix until combined.

Coming Soon: Beetle Dune for Baja

Embattled Volkswagen has revealed the production version of its new Beetle, a "more rugged" edition of the automaker's world famous road vehicle.

The 2016 Beetle Dune incorporates qualities of the classic off-road Baja Bugs, the automaker announced Tuesday, which were modified Beetles that became popular in the 1960s. It aims to add a sportier, more adventurous character to the traditional Beetle design.

To emphasize its "all-terrain" qualities, the car's ride height has been raised 0.4 inches, and the Dune's stance has been widened by 0.6 inches. The car will be equipped with a 1.8 liter gasoline four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

On the inside, the 2016 Dune vehicle will be kitted out with sport seats, along with an array of technology to add a fresh take on the old Baja Bugs. The Dune will include VW's entertainment and connectivity systems, which allows the car to hook up to specific smartphone platforms.

If customers desire it, there are two packages: the "lighting package" with LED license plate lighting and running lights; and the "technology package" which has a dual-zone automatic climate control and a sound system created by amplifier manufacturer, Fender. The vehicle will be available in both coupe and convertible.

On top of this, the automaker is also paying its respect to its 1970s Jeans Bug with a special edition denim version: "2016 Beetle Denim." It gives the new car a contemporary makeover which includes jeans-inspired seat pockets, and a light blue and silver dashpad.

Both the Beetle Dune and Beetle Denim will be available in the U.S. from early 2016; however the Dune Convertible will arrive later in 2016. This announcement comes at a difficult time for the automaker, who has recently been dealing with the backlash from its emissions scandal.

This September, Volkswagen (VW) told U.S. dealers to halt sales of some of its diesel cars, after regulators discovered that software designed for some of VW's vehicles were giving false emissions data.

The latest news came on Tuesday, when data from the Association of European Carmakers (ACEA) showed that European sales and market share had slipped in October for Volkswagen.

Over the recent months, analysts know one thing for certain: it will be a long uphill struggle for the automaker to fix its reputation with consumers.

"Getting this reputation issue solved is a Herculean task. I'm not sure how they will approach this and how they will get consumer confidence over time," Christian Ludwig, automotive analyst at Bankhaus Lampe, told CNBC's Worldwide Exchange in September.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to Make Your Own Beach Shower

Want to get the sand off after a day in the surf or simply just want to cool off while working on your tan? Try this on for size...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Faces from the border...

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, border agents patrol the area for undocumented immigrants entering from Mexico.

This is the first in a three-part series, “Faces from the Border,” about Mexican-American agents on the border between the United States and Mexico. The series was produced, with funding from the Ford Foundation, as part of a research project on migrants and migration policy by the Division of International Studies and the Journalism on Public Policy Program at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), in Mexico City.

From afar, they look like shadows, the men and women known as guardians of the border, thousands of agents whose job is to provide security for the United States, to protect Americans from those coming northbound from Mexico.

They ride past markers that dot the border, along the Rio Grande. The so-called monuments serve as reminders of where one country begins and another ends, all the while disregarding history, geography, and the people who see it for what it really is—a politically charged illusion forced on border residents by faraway governments, in Washington and Mexico City. This is a frontier shaped over centuries, by explorers who go back to the Spanish Conquista, and further back, before the Mayans and Aztecs, back before the lands divided. Now the region looks more like a demilitarized zone than the spot where two partner nations meet.

The monuments—resembling mileposts—play in my head as I search for Oscar Hagelsieb, the assistant special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations division of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and one of the thousands of these guardians of the border.

On a spring afternoon, I drive along Paisano Drive, in El Paso, and spot shiny white-and-green Border Patrol vans crawling alongside an eighteen-foot fence. The agents seem bored, guarding the world’s most powerful country from possible terrorists, but mostly from Mexican men and women. The vans are parked next to the rusted fence that divides two neighbors sharing one bloodline, long historic tensions, and current trade of about a million dollars per minute, or $1.4 billion per day.

I eventually find Hagelsieb, a former covert agent, sporting an unusual suit and tie, in a white G-ride—a government car. He’s usually most comfortable on his Harley, dressed in jeans and a tight T-shirt that shows off his tattooed biceps. I ask him what it takes to guard the border, and he responds with the kind of nuance he says is needed to do the job of trying to divide good and evil and our own inherent preconceived notions. “The border isn’t always black and white,” Hagelsieb says. “The real key is understanding the gray areas, and never forgetting this is also where you come from. For many this is home.”

Security has long been a buzzword among American politicians looking to score points. The pledge to secure or seal the border is a rallying cry, at times making the region resemble a political piñata rather than a place with an estimated fifteen million people who live along the crooked line. Hit the piñata and watch your poll ratings go up.

G.O.P. Presidential front-runner and billionaire Donald Trump has taken the harshness to a new level, denigrating Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists.” Trump has accused the Mexican government of deliberately flooding the United States with “people that have lots of problems,” and has insisted that, if elected, he’ll order mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, including millions of Mexicans. He’ll complete the construction of a two-thousand-mile-long wall—“a beautiful wall”—along the U.S. border, at a price tag of billions of dollars, and charge it to the Mexican government.

Trump’s fulminations against Mexico have also included the possibility of denying birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants. His tone and rhetoric have alarmed Mexicans on both sides of the border, stirring so much interest that people in the central Mexican state of Michoacán sat outside on a recent evening to watch one of the G.O.P.’s political debates. They booed whenever the man they jokingly refer to as pato, or duck, spoke. Duck as in Donald Duck, in honor of Trump’s bright blond hair and pursed lips.

Hagelsieb notes that Trump’s words are insulting—and not just to him, his father, or his family. Trump’s insults also directly hit many of the U.S. federal agents assigned to protect the United States from terrorists or pesky immigrants seeking work.

The agents along the border are the most important part of America’s security buildup, rather than the new toys or technology, from Predator drones to geospatial intelligence systems to underground motion sensors. Many of them grew up nearby. Some are often the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when the border line was not as hard of a line. Their personal experience, dual-language skills, and bicultural background are essential for them to deliver results at their work as border guardians. They may be naturalized citizens or first-generation Americans, or their parents or grandparents may have crossed the border illegally in the past. Many share one trait as they do their jobs: an understanding that the people on the other side of the border, or who are trying to cross the border illegally, could be them.

Hagelsieb’s gray areas encompass the borderlands where the U.S. and Mexico blend together, the shared history between citizens of both countries. To begin with, he says he proudly lives in the shadow of his father, also named Oscar. The same monuments around him are the ones that his father, a native of Sonora, once crossed by to work as a gardener, often of manicured golf courses, in El Paso. Back then, in the nineteen-fifties, the lines were blurred. The times were more fickle; policies, then as now, were hypocritical, although some would say more pragmatic.

Sometimes, as the elder Hagelsieb crossed the Rio Grande, especially in the scorching heat of summer, he would patiently wait for Border Patrol agents to detain him. Once inside the pale-green vans, he’d tell them where he was headed: the home of their boss, the Border Patrol chief, for whom he did some general gardening jobs. They were all laughs and smiles.

When he wasn’t working for the chief, he’d have to run from the same agents. One morning, after narrowly escaping, he made a decision that changed his destiny. He decided he’d had enough of the uncertainty. Rather than risk getting caught every day as he made his way to work, he moved in order to make a life in El Paso. A former bracero—guest worker—he eventually earned a green card and later brought with him his young bride, with whom he would raise a family. Oscar, Jr., the youngest of four children born in the United States, was a curious boy with dreams of one day working in law enforcement.

Years later, in his twenties, a young and anxious Hagelsieb sat down with his father to make known his career choice. He had rehearsed the lines, thinking he’d have to convince his father, who listened patiently. It turned out that Hagelsieb wanted to be a Border Patrol agent, to protect his own country from his father’s. He wanted to protect those monuments, the same ones his father once ignored. Father looked at son with a mixture of pride and patience.

“You’ll be a great agent,” Hagelsieb remembers his father telling him. “Just treat people well, with respect, dignity. La migra needs people like you to humanize Mexico and its people. Remember that they come here because of need and are just looking for an opportunity.” But when it comes to going after criminals, whether they’re smugglers or human traffickers, his father advised him to “put in one hundred and ten per cent.”

Hagelsieb joined the Border Patrol and later headed for the Middle East, as an agent for Homeland Security Investigations. He then returned to the U.S., where he made a name for himself by working undercover.

His father passed away last month, forcing Hagelsieb to confront his own identity. Tributes to his father come from friends and family on both sides of the border, underscoring the deep ties between countries. This also pushed Hagelsieb to make sense of his career.

Whatever tensions exist between the United States and Mexico melt away when he recalls the legacy bestowed upon him. “I think of the best way to do my job by being respectful, not arrogant, and think of those who came before us,” Hagelsieb says. “I think of my father.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tienda Vacio

Tienda Vacio
 by George Bergin

            A few years ago my wife and I found our way to Pt. Lobos beach, just south of Todos Santos. We were looking for a swimming beach, not a fishing port.  Luckily we came to the beach just as the fishermen were returning in their small boats.  At this point of the coast, close to the end of the Baja California peninsula, the great Pacific ocean, rages, pounds the cliffs, rocks, sandy points -- the California current forcing the sea, even on the rare calm day, south and east with unbelievable power.
            The fearless fishermen gun their big 75HP outboard motors, wait for a wave they think may end way up on the sand, race at breakneck speed to fling their heavy boats as far up and away from the waves as possible.  The wrong wave, a faltering start, motor trouble would leave the boat, not high on the safety of the sand but too close to the breaking waves -- waves breaking over the transom would swamp the boat, drag it under, fisherman, fish, motor and boat.

            This particular day they all made it to safety.  We watched the old rusty pickups quickly hook stout ropes to the bow rings, pull the boats high on the beach, return to wait for the next daredevil.

            The whole experience was special for me because I live in a small village near the beach, I have a boat on the beach,  I face the rigors of launch and return just like these brave guys.  Unlike these guys who fish for a living, I fish for pleasure, when I choose to fish, like, well, when it’s calm.  On my side of the peninsula, the sea, the Sea of Cortez is a placid lake when compared to conditions on the Pacific side.  My boat shares the beach with the boats of twenty or so fishermen.  When this little sea rages we all stay put, live to fish another day.  Until recently there have been enough fish around here for the commercial fishermen to survive quite nicely by fishing only when the sea presents conditions with more opportunity than risk.

            Things change.  Last week when I took my morning walk to the beach, there, high on the sand, a dozen fishing boats from Todos Santos.  They must have come in at night.  Three big support vehicles with gas, ice, food, water, tents, blankets, parked near the boats.   They stayed way down the beach to themselves, pitched some tents, put up some temporary sanitary structures. The next two days these visitors shoved off into calm seas along with the locals to fish with handlines for whatever they could find.

            Yesterday I walked to the beach at first light, caught some nice croakers on chunk bait.  A north wind had come up during the night and put the sea into a froth.  Four and five foot waves crashing loudly every few seconds along the strand sent the locals back to their patios, their hammocks, beds.  I had four nice fish in the bucket; just as I was ready to walk back up to the house I saw commotion up the beach.  The group from Todos Santos was busy turning their boats around.  Ten or more guys pushed and pulled each boat so that the bow was now pointed out to sea.  It became obvious they were going to launch.  Some local fishermen agreed with me that they must be leaving -- they must be choosing this early hour to run south with the swells and the waves to San Jose, stop there for the night, perhaps press on the next calm day to return to their home port, Pt. Lobos.

            We were wrong.  One by one the boats were pushed into the great waves, bows bucking to the skies.  Intrepid youngsters pummeled by the surge of the water, were lifted off their feet, trying desperately to push the stern, risking the loss of a leg, legs just inches from the killer propellers which roared into action when the helmsman pulled the starter cord -- the motors are started in forward gear, not in neutral -- instant forward motion to keep the bow out, to keep the big waves from swamping the boat or tossing it back to the shore to be torn apart by the force of sea. In the face of this raging sea they all headed north, into the teeth of the gale -- they were going fishing.

            Back on my patio, with my binoculars, I watched them disappear into the seamist.  Dozens of questions raced through my mind.  Why are they here?  Is the area around Pt. Lobos, around Todos Santos, fished out?  Is this the first place they stopped?  Did they try their luck in San Jose, Frailes, Punta Arena?  The only places they can put in must give easy access to the big support trucks.  The trucks must be able to quickly take the fresh fish, iced down but not frozen, to market in Cabo San Lucas or La Paz, the only places with buyers -- two cities more than three hours apart on the paved highway.

            What does this mean to our local fishery?  If these brave interlopers (the locals call them Pirates) would risk everything, boats, gear, life and limb today, on a day like this, with the sea raging, they must have caught fish in profitable numbers on the previous calm days. Will they stay?  Will the locals change the way they fish?  Will they brave the storm-tossed seas to compete with these Pirates?  What have these newcomers risked?

            Now my head is full of intuition about these strangers.  Obviously this is a union or co-op effort, a pooling of money, equipment, sweat.  It’s a gamble.  They must have agreed to try their luck on this side, see what’s here.  They laid out the costs for the trucks, food, gas, ice.  They know the potential profit.  The market, the thing they need to catch is Huachinango, red snapper.  Restaurants in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas have created a need for fresh snapper, served whole, baleful eye and all, on a plate or platter.  The buyers want the fish fresh, not frozen and they must fit the plate -- minimum, one kilo, maximum, two kilos.  Buyers on the beach pay our local fishermen 26 pesos per kilo for the right fish.  Two fishermen, on a good day, can catch, clean and sell 150 kilos or more -- when you subtract what they laid out for ice and gas, about $350 dollars to be split between the two men.

            More questions than answers.  What are they using for bait?  What did it cost them?  How do they keep it fresh?  Perhaps they are not fishing for red snapper.  If the catch is pargo snapper, triggerfish, chub, jacks, rays, the money drops off drastically -- buyers pay only for filets, about 40 % of the weight of the whole fish -- 8 to 12 pesos per kilo depending on the market (buyers in the cities pay the same, fresh or frozen).

            This visit by the Pirates is a bell ringing.  We have had other visitors, even larger groups from Sonora, Sinaloa, areas long ago fished out but this is the first group from the Pacific. 

            In the north, near Guaymas, 12,000 Mexicans, finding no way to feed their families working the land in Sonora, have taken to the sea in search of fish no longer in these waters.  Most of them are not experienced fishermen like the men from Todos Santos.  A rag-tag flotilla with little hope or equipment, they will find no fish.  They will discover that Mexico sold the fish, the shrimp, all the marine wealth that once filled the coastal waters they claim to have dominion over, to the highest bidder.

             The rebel Marcos, in the jungles of Chiapas, was right when he said the people who run Mexico act like merchants, they are the merchants and Mexico is the tienda.  The bell ringing signals that, finally, THE SHELVES ARE ALMOST EMPTY and this particular tienda, this little sea, and all of Mexico‘s coastal waters, can never be restocked.


             When I wrote this my concern was the fishermen from the Pacific side had fished out a very large area of the Pacific near Todos Santos and had to look elsewhere for fertile fishing grounds.  Just after I finished the piece, the fishermen left.  Then my concern was that they did not find enough fish on this side to make the trip profitable, that this area was also fished out.  Warm water this spring was pushed east, around the Cape and was replaced by very cold water from an enormous upwelling, a forceful current pushing southeast and upward to change everything from Magdelena bay well past the tip of the peninsula.  I did not ask myself or others enough questions.  I was not thinking like a fisherman.  To really know the story from all angles one should try to learn about the fish, the market and the mother -- mother nature makes big changes we only see way down the chain of events.  The fish may still be at Todos Santos but unusually strong currents have changed everything for those whose lives depend on the everyday business of finding, catching, selling. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Night Rocket over Baja California, Mexico

A mysterious, streaking light was seen off the west coast of California, all the way down to Baja California last night, Saturday November 7, 2015, starting around 6:00PM. Twitter went crazy with thousands of pictures and videos of the object.

Reports are that it was an unarmed Trident II (D5) missile test launch.The Trident II is a three-stage solid fuel missile built by Lockheed Martin.

The expanding halo of light is likely to be a staging event: when one stage shuts down, is ejected, and the next stage ignites. Ordnance (a small explosion) is used to separate the spent stage. If the missile were above most of the atmosphere, you’d expect to see a bright flash and an expanding ring of gas from the staging ordnance.

Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the Navy, said the Navy Strategic Systems Programs conducted the missile test at sea from the USS Kentucky, a ballistic missile submarine.

“The tests were part of a scheduled, on-going system evaluation test,” Perry said in a statement.

Perry said the launches are conducted on a frequent basis to ensure the continued reliability of the system and that information about such test launches is classified prior to launch.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department also confirmed the test launch of an unarmed missile.

“The light seen in the OC sky was confirmed through JWA tower to be a Naval test fire off the coast,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter. JWA tower refers to John Wayne Airport which is in Orange.

The lack of information about the streak of light around sunset led to a flurry of calls to law enforcement agencies and lit up social media as people posted photos and video of the light. Many people claimed the light could’ve been a meteor, a missile or a visit from extraterrestrials.

The claim of a meteor could have been plausible because of the ongoing Taurid meteor shower that is taking place between Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 and is expected to be more active than usual this year, according to NASA.

It wasn't clear whether the test was related to the rerouting of nighttime flights into and out of Los Angeles International Airport because of an active military airspace from Friday to Nov. 12.

Flights usually arrive and depart over the ocean from midnight to 6:30 a.m. to minimize noise, but they will have to go over communities east of the airport.

The test was conducted in the Pacific Test Range, a vast area northwest of Los Angeles where the Navy periodically test-fires Tomahawk and Standard cruise missiles from surface ships and submarines.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Baja’s Metal Hand Axe

Baja’s Metal Hand Axe
By George Bergin

When I’m fishing in Baja Sur I usually try to find time to check in with my old pal Chuy Ortiz in Santa Isabela. He’s one of the most successful commerciantes in the village, owns six hardware outlets that I know about and God know’s what else. He’s a busy guy but we go way back to when he was just a kid, a despachador, the boat honcho at one of the fishing resorts, so he usually can find some time to visit, have lunch, dinner, whatever.

He was in the main store near the beach and was just heading out the door when I arrived.

“Bob, I was just leaving to go see if I could sell a tractor to a guy over by campamento. Why don’t you drive over there with me, I won’t be there long and then we can go have some lunch.”

On the way I asked him about the new hotel/golf course/marina project in Santa Isabela. The original ejido land along the beach had been sold four years ago and this summer would see the first real signs the project was underway; everything takes time in Mexico – the permits took forever, some infrastructure buildout had been done and finally the big diggers, earth movers and trucks began to huff and puff along the strand where the marina and hotel would be.

“Another ejido just sold another big parcel for about $15,000,000 dollars. The lucky farmers are going a little crazy with their new-found wealth. Good for me and my business. This guy we’re going to see wants a new tractor for some farmland he holds outside the parcel. Still a great market around here for albahaca, basil.” Chuy said.

We roared through the dusty main street of a little village on the mesa near Highway One and headed south down a big long hill into a fertile bajada. Houses and shacks and little ranches could be seen way back in the mesquite jungle. We pulled off to the left and made a few turns – pulled into an open gate at our destination.

We were in front of a large but modest house. There was a big red truck parked under a tree, a new ATV was just a few meters away. As we got out of Chuy’s truck and began to walk toward the house we both slowed, then stopped, awestruck. Just a few meters in front of us lay a dead dog covered in blood. The brand new truck was riddled with gunshots, all the windows shot out, one big back tire was flat. The ATV was shot all to hell.

Chuy yelled “Carlos? Carlos?” not a sound.

The front door of the house had been blown off the hinges by shotgun blasts, the frames splintered and pulverized. The little wooden stoop was covered with fresh blood. Chuy went on in so I followed him.

“Carlos? Carlos?” no Carlos.

It was not easy to see the whole room outside the sunlight filtering through the doorway and one small window to the right. The floor was spattered with fresh or drying blood. A beautiful double-door stainless steel fridge looked doubly out of place in this rustic setting as it was blown to bits by buckshot and smaller shotgun pellets. A new stove and TV got the same treatment. I stayed put while Chuy searched the rest of the place for people or bodies. Nothing. He motioned for us to get going.

We were silent until the truck was back on blacktop headed back to Santa Isabela.

“Are we going right to the police department? Are you gonna make a report now?”

“No Bob, no report now. Probably never.”

“But, it’s gotta be reported. All that blood……”

“News travels fast around here. In a few days everybody will know what happened. Not a good idea for either of us to be involved. The police are the ones who have the shotguns.

I’ve got a lot of things to do at the store today. I better get back. Call me in a couple of days and we can have dinner. Maybe by then I’ll know what happened and maybe I can tell you a little about it.”

The dinner never happened. I called a couple of times but Chuy was out. I had plenty of time to think about what I had seen. It was the money – that much was clear. The police were probably the shooters.

It has been 16 years now since the edijdotarios have been allowed to regularize their land. Finally the campesinos are being sought after by developers from the U.S., Mexico and Europe. They see vast opportunities all along Mexico’s coast and their arrival changes everything.

On the plane as I flew back to Houston I looked out the window at the azure waters of the sea, the ragged, pristine stretches of coastline. I could not help but think about TV specials I once enjoyed about social scientists struggling with how to handle rock age people found in Borneo, Burma and elsewhere whose isolation and primitive lifestyles kept them from changing, progressing – the very first such encounter brought up the question about metal tools. Would it be wise to give these people machetes and metal knives and handaxes? Would just these simple tools make changes in their culture which could be vastly detrimental or do we owe it to our neighbors (are we our brother’s keeper?) to help them change, advance? Do we have a duty and obligation or are we arrogant meddlers?

Perhaps in 1992, when the land reform was made final, those who signed it envisioned lush fields of corn, beans, grain spreading out across the plains of Mexico making honest profits for new-age Mexican farmers for their hard work and enterprise. Perhaps they could not see what I saw at the farmer’s house.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Puffer Fish moving up into northern Baja...

Several puffer fish have now been seen recently here in the northern Baja Pacific coastal area, including a few caught yesterday inside the San Quintin Bay. The locals here commonly refer to it as "butete", "fogu" or "pez globo"; they will puff up and expand their size when they feel threatened.

They belong to the Tetraodontidae fish family and are closely related to the porcupine fish which have the large protruding spines. They have 4 large teeth, two each on the upper and lower plates and are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison
frog. Certain internal organs, such as liver, and sometimes their skin, contain tetrodotoxin and are highly toxic to most animals when eaten; nevertheless, the meat of some species is considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia.

If you are unfamiliar with the fish, precaution is in order as while the meat is delicious, care must be taken while cleaning the fish to avoid piercing the internal organs and avoid the skin. Personally, I would prefer to avoid it to concentrate on other bountiful, less toxic species but if you insist on trying it, here is a video which explains how to properly clean the fish and safely remove the meat...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Unlikely friendship: Teaching a pelican to fish...

Just Kidding

Just Kidding
by George Bergin
            Newcomers I have met recently, here in this little corner of Mexico, have all had one thing in common.  They have a deep-seated and abiding need to enjoy a bargain in every product and service they buy.  Their joy or discontent seems to hinge on whether they got the very best "bang for the buck" (in this case peso) on cement work, gardening, the purchase of a product, comestible; ownership, right to quietly enjoy every conceivable kind of house, boat, car, trailer, fishing rod, etc., etc.
 Not just a fair price but a price much lower than any paid by their neighbors or contemporaries.  Their compulsion is never more visible than when they hire things done, at their homes, by Mexicans.  The women actually have
ad hoc meetings about what they should pay young Ramons or Javiers to weed and water.  If Maria cleans the houses of adjacent neighbors, it is of utmost importance that she be paid the same by each homeowner.
The idea is to pay not one puny centavo more than is absolutely necessary to satisfy (and keep employed) the young and able who are willing to clean, rake, paint, water, plaster, without interruption; those who will take the money in a calloused, sweaty palm with a smile and a kind of bowing of the head, walk into the sunset.  In this environment it is dangerous to overpay.  Anyone caught overpaying will not be seen at future meetings; their names might be mentioned in statements made by those who use rough language.
            God has dropped me into this garden to play.  What a chance for a little good-natured fun.  I am patient.  I wait until they are gathered; dinners, cocktail parties, birthdays.  It starts slowly:
            I open with "We just hired a new gardener.  His name is Manuel, Cristo's son.  He's about 17 or 18.  Still in school.  So we just have him working weekends." 
 Then I wait for THE QUESTION.
"Is he any good?  What are you paying him?"
            My remarks are not meant to scold, hurt.  They might be said to be "little left jabs of satire", not harmful roundhouse blows.  I guess I am trying to be "mirror man" -- show them how they really look (full length, front).
            "Well, he seems to do a good job.  He works two hours Saturday and two Sunday.  I hope I'm not overpaying him, spoiling him, but he is good...and he's a nice kid.  I give him a hundred bucks a month."  I talk right over the gasps. "I got a new truck this summer so I gave him my old Ford.  He loves the 4 wheel drive.  It's an 89, in pretty good shape.”
            “Also I set aside some money each month for a scholarship.  If his grades are good next year maybe we might be able to get him a student visa, use some of my clout at U.C., my old alma mater, to get him in.  Lynda says we are doing too much.  I think she's right.  I've decided to cut back on his seafood buffets at the hotel, stop paying the two blow job girls altogether and I’ll cut his masseuse visits way back to once a month.  When I tell him, he's not going to be happy.”
            “I can handle that.  I'll get him a helper."