Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Update on NOM-029 - Make Your Voice Heard!

"Take a Minute - Save Some Billfish"

That was the heading of an email sent on October 14th to my in-box from The Billfish Foundation. I signed-up for their email notification system and they do an excellent job of sending updates on what they are working on, current news reports, etc. You can sign-up here: The Billfish Foundation. On the left-side toolbar is a box to enter your email address, click 'signup' and that´s it!.

These are the folks in-the-know, who have been working for years on conservation issues around the world. When I wrote this blog entry: Can Mexico follow in Peru's Footsteps & Preserve Their Sportfishing Industry?" the information on Peru came from TBF's website.

They are hard at work again, in collaboration with Sea Watch , fighting to over-turn the "incidental by-catch agreement" of NOM-029. Here is the link to the online letter to Mexican officials - all you have to do is click, read the information and enter in your name & email address: Mail Campaign Bycatch Letter.

Sea Watch has done the work of submitting the letter to the right folks for you - click on send and your note (that you can personalize with your own thoughts and opinions) is automatically sent to five officials who - quoted from the website: "... share responsibility managing the resources of the Sea of Cortez".

Here is a quoted segment of the letter that you would sign, "The "by-catch agreement" permits and encourages commercial operations to catch and sell their valuable "by-catch", thereby driving local fishermen out of business and destroying the sport fishery. Without serious enforcement measures and changes to fishing techniques, we should expect that longliners working near the BCS shore will take around 90% of our valuable sport species. Furthermore, we should expect the sport fishery to be decimated by these practices."

Please help Sea Watch, The Billfish Foundation and all others who are working hard to preserve the sanctity of the Sea of Cortez and it´s spectacular inhabitants, by clicking the link above and having your voice heard.

The Spanish version of the letter is on this page: Mail Campaign Bycatch Letter (espanol).

Thanks to TBF and Sea Watch for this post, Molly

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Importing a Car to Baja

For penance for my lack of recent posts I thought I would tackle this bear of a question. Reader beware - it is complicated and fairly confusing, especially as things most likely will be changing once again in the new year (January, 2009). Here goes...

Baja is a Free Trade Zone. You do not need a permit or to post a bond when entering the Peninsula by car. When entering the mainland these items are needed, but Baja is exempt from the regulations. If you need detailed information on importing a car to the mainland, please read Question #2 on this page: Viva La Baja! Questions & Answers.

Not having to post a bond or acquire a permit is great for those taking trips, staying for a few months, etc. but what about those folks who move permanently and want to import their U.S. vehicle so as to register as a Mexican car and therefore not have to maintain current vehicle registration and license from the U.S.? Therein lies the rub, so to speak.

As of March 2nd, 2008 the Mexican government excluded all vehicles for import other than year 1998 models. Calderon may turn back this regulation and allow imports again of vehicles 10 years and older via NAFTA original agreement but no one can say that will happen for sure. NAFTA agreement is scheduled to go into effect in the new year (January, 2009). Here is what NAFTA delineates:

"Only vehicles 10 years and older will be allowed in initially. Those age restrictions will gradually be reduced until 2019, when the used-car market will be completely open."

So maybe after the first of the year vehicles other than solely 1998 models will be available for import as older models are allowed back in - but there is no guarantee, Calderon can do as he chooses... 2019 may see an open market or may not.

Next blog entry: How to maintain car registration in the U.S. when living in Baja.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula, available to order at www.vivalabaja.com.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lack of Recent Posts on Viva La Baja! Blog

I could be considered guilty of ´blog neglect´and maybe should be! My half-completed "Hallloween in Baja" post will have to be kept for next year. Currently my son and I are in a travel mode, just completing a major pain in the rear (unless you have tons of cash for airfare) journey from Central America to South America. Much of the time there has been little to no Internet service available... regardless, apologies for being lax on posts.

Upcoming on Viva La Baja! Blog:

*** Learning the Language - for Adults
*** Overfishing & Regulations Meant to Prevent it... Is it working?
*** Getting the Scoop in Baja - Online News Publications for Baja

And many more... but don´t want to give away too many ideas :)

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide for the Baja California Peninsula. www.vivalabaja.com

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dengue Fever in Baja

Tis’ the season, unfortunately. In Baja, dengue fever outbreaks typically occur in September and October following hurricane season when water from tropical storms is available for mass breeding of mosquitoes. There are four different types of dengue fever, with no vaccines or cures currently available.

Classic symptoms of the illness are: a high fever that may last from 5 to 7 days; intense headache; joint and muscle pain; and a rash. The rash typically begins on the arms or legs three to four days after the beginning of the fever. Symptoms can range greatly in severity yet in general usually resolve within 1 to 2 weeks.

There is no specific treatment for dengue except well-intended advice to rest and drink plenty of fluids. After recovery from infection of one type you obtain some immunity against that specific virus but subsequent infections by any of the other three types of dengue viruses can be more severe.

Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever is the most serious form of this illness. In addition to the classic symptoms listed above, sufferers can experience internal bleeding, liver enlargement and circulatory shut down. Hospitalization is usually required. It is most common in children under 15 yrs of age, but is also seen in adults.

Health Alert: Dengue Fever & Children If you are the parent of a child who has had an episode of dengue illness, it is important to know that a second infection can be much more severe. Symptoms of Dengue Fever in infants and children are outlined on the Pediatric Oncall website.

The best tactic to prevent dengue is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. This includes sleeping in areas screened from mosquitoes, wearing long sleeves and pants and using mosquito repellents. Another protective measure is to destroy breeding sites containing standing water such as old tires, plastic packaging, pet water dishes, etc. Anything that holds standing water can breed mosquitoes.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Monday, September 8, 2008

Learning The Language - For Kids

Note: This is an excerpt from the chapter “Children and Education” of the Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide. To view all topics covered in the eBook, click here: Table of Contents.

There are many alternatives for educating a non-Spanish speaking child in Mexico, and for acquiring language ability. An excellent way to start is to spend a summer in Mexico and have the child or teenager attend a summer program or camp. It is a fun, low-stress method of learning and can help you assess how quickly he or she will pick-up the language. It also gives a jump-start on the school year if enrolling your child the following Fall is your goal.

My son and I spent a summer in Morelia, Mexico (July, 2007) to beat the heat of Baja and had a good time. He attended a Mexican professional, arts school – Belles Artes – for a month-long program in dance, painting, theatre and music for $75 USD. I wrote an article that contains information on available summer programs for children in Morelia. It can be read online here: Traveling to Mexico with Children.

Even a few days or a week at a hotel day care program can be beneficial. While Mom and Dad play, kids have fun and gain the experience of being in the care of adults who speak Spanish and English. An easy trip across the border, Rosarito Beach Hotel offers supervised kids camp for guests. Detailed information can be found here: Rosarito Beach Hotel.

Ecotourism Kuyima, located in San Ignacio, has weeklong summer camps for Mexican and American children: Adventure's for Kids. Your child would have the opportunity to interact with Mexican children, who may or may not speak English. Interacting with their peers outside of a classroom setting is often times the most effective way for kids to learn.

Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide has additional listings of summer camps, volunteer programs, environmental studies in Baja and other programs for teens and families.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide for the Baja California Peninsula. www.vivalabaja.com

Friday, August 15, 2008

Private Bilingual Education for Children in Baja - Norte & Sur

Private, bilingual schools for Pre-K, Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior High and Highschool are found throughout the Baja California Peninsula. In Northern Baja (Baja Norte) the greatest number of private schools are found in the area from Tijuana to Rosarito. There are private, bilingual schools in Ensenada as well.

For Southern Baja (Baja Sur), the majority of schools are found in La Paz and the Los Cabos area (Cabo San Lucas & San Jose del Cabo). Loreto also has private schooling available.

For information on how to enroll a child in school in Baja, read the previous blog entry: Sending a Child to School in Baja.

Some private schools in Baja offer a bilingual education with curriculum in both Spanish and English. Others are primarily Spanish-only, with English classes. Private school hours typically follow the North American norm of 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Private schools have independent authority over their hours of operation and curriculum but must follow federal guidelines regarding enrollment, the same as with public schools. If your child cannot show proof of successfully completing the previous grade level, he or she will have to repeat the grade.

The three school levels covered here are Pre-escolar (Pre-school grades 0 to kindergarten), Primaria (Primary school grades 1-6) and Secondaria (Middle school grades 7-9). Highschool in Mexico is called Preparatory and is grades 10-12.

There are a few small towns with one private school, such as Loreto; the larger cities such as La Paz and Cabo San Lucas have many. In addition to monthly tuition, you will pay an enrollment fee (approximately one-months tuition) and book and uniform fees ($300 to $500 USD and up).

Private school tuition pricing varies greatly. In La Paz, Montessori La Paz is approximately $180 USD a month for tuition. In Cabo San Lucas, Papalote is approximately $350 USD per month. Below is a selection of private schools in the Baja California Peninsula. Visit the school for more information.

Private Bilingual Schools
Here is contact information for a few private, bilingual schools for both Baja Norte and Baja Sur:

Rosarito Beach:
• Colegio Colina de la Luz (1-6), Lazaro Cardenas 1400
• Instituto de las Americas Bilingüe (1-9), Floresta del Mar. Tel +52 661-22 442
• Colegio Ingles (1-6), Calles Rocio No 1030. Tel 668-02 515

• Cristóbal Colon (1-6), Av Miramar 831. Tel +52 174-0024
• Colegio Rodríguez Cabrillo (pre-K and up), Calle San Martín No. 700. Tel +52 172-4640
• Colegio Valle de la Trinidad (7-9), Avenue de las Aguilas. Tel +52 003-5050

• Colegio Calafia Loreto (1-6), Calle (street) Colegio Num 20. Tel 613-135-0152

La Paz:
• Colegio Anahuac (7-9), Guillermo Prieto y Republica. Tel 612-122-1184
• Centro Infantil Montessori (pre-K), Normal Urbana Num 1680 ESQ. Tel 621-122-9268
• Colegio Maria Fernanda (1-6), Calle Cuauhtemoc Num. 1615. Tel 612-123-5188

San Jose del Cabo:
• Juan Mc Gregor (1-6), Km 24. 8, Carretera Transpeninsular. Tel 624-144-5595
• Instituto Particular International Libertad, A.C. (1-9), Morelos Num 17. Tel 624-142-0428
• Centro Educativo Cactus y Mar (1-6), Manzana 21 Lote 8. Tel 624-172-8288

Cabo San Lucas:
• El Camino (1-12), Callejón del Jorongo Num 210. Tel 624-143-2100
• Montessori Omeyocan (1-6), Jacarandas s/n Lomas del Pacifico. Tel 624-173-0156
• Colegio Amarento, A.C. (1-6), Km 6.7, Carretera Transpeninsular. Tel 624-145-8701
• Papalote (1-6), 5 de Febrero E/ignacio Zaragoza. Tel 624-144-4311

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula, available for order at www.vivalabaja.com.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sending a Child to School in Baja

Your kids have had a blast in Baja. You have as well. They’re sold, you’re sold. Everyone is caught up in hyper-speed towards relocation until you realize... yikes! It is time to pull back on the Baja-bound, super-shuttle throttle – your children have to go to school.

You have three basic options for schooling your child in the Baja California Peninsula: public school, private school or homeschooling. My personal advice, based upon experience with both private and public school systems on the mainland and in Baja, is this; if your child is bilingual, and speaks Spanish fluently, you have any school in the country available to you, pick and choose.

If your child is not bilingual, and has little familiarity with the Spanish language, tread cautiously. A private school may best suit his or her needs, where Spanish is taught for half the day and English the other half. For the English-learning part of the day they get to be the star student, counter-balancing the initial struggles and frustrations during the hours of Spanish instruction.

In immersion programs the instructors are trained to deal with issues faced by non-native speakers. They have to be to teach Mexican children English. In public schools they most likely are not. The cost of private schooling runs anywhere from $150 to $350 U.S. a month and up.

Mexican schools will welcome you as a foreigner – to a certain extent. In deciding what option may be best for your child, keep in mind that public schools in Mexico will not provide support for a non-native speaking child, as is common in many areas of the U.S, and other First World countries. Your advantaged and/or bright child may succeed effortlessly from the ages of three to seven years of age (approximately) when language acquisition is at its peak and little academic stress is put upon them.

Your middle school-aged child or teenager may or may not. A less-stressful first leap into the culture may be a summer program or volunteer abroad program. There are summer programs in Baja and on the mainland.

Another alternative is to start-out homeschooling and take it from there, making decisions based on how it goes and what resources are available in your particular Baja town. Some expat parents send their children to the local public program in the day or afternoon and homeschool English curriculum.

To enroll a child in public or private school in Mexico you must show proof he or she has successfully completed the previous school year and therefore is eligible to continue on to the next grade level. If there are no school records available, or the student does not pass final examinations, they have to repeat the previous year. In my sons’ fourth grade public school class one child was 12 years old.

The school will ask for a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a copy of school records showing completion of the previous year of study and photo identification for the child and for the parent. If your child has been homeschooling in the states independently of any school system you must create an official report for him or her that is validated in a way acceptable to the school.

Mexican public school hours are typically from 8 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Private school hours commonly follow the North American norm of 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Private schools have independent control over curriculum and hours of operation but must adhere to the same government-mandated guidelines for enrollment.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula, available for order at www.vivalabaja.com.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Can You Catch Lyme Disease in Baja?

Time out in the Baja desert means ticks, yet thankfully not Lyme disease. There has not been a reported case of Lyme disease on the Baja California Peninsula, and those dedicated smart folks - scientists - have figured out why. It seems the organism that causes Lyme Disease can not survive in the primary host for ticks in Baja - lizards.

Lyme disease is contracted when a tick carrying the Lyme disease spirochete bites a host organism and passes the bacterium in the blood. Three different types of bacterium can transmit Lyme disease. In Baja and Western states in the U.S. such as Utah, Arizona and California the ticks feed off of lizards. Lizards have been found to have some type of substance in their blood that kills the bacterium present in the ticks stomach. The ticks then do not harbor the organism any longer so cannot transmit it to other hosts such as us humans.

In the Northeast, where Lyme disease in prevalent, the black-legged ticks feed off of white mice and continue to carry and transmit the bacteria. It is estimated that 50% of ticks in the Northeastern states of the U.S. harbor the Lyme disease causing spirochete, but is found in only 5% of ticks inhabitating the Western areas.

A trademark of the illness is a round, red rash on the skin where bitten. The infection can be treated successfully with antibiotics if diagnosed and treated promptly, but if left untreated can cause long-term, disabling symptoms.

An article describing the above in more detail can be found here on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: Learn About Lyme Disease.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula available for purchase at Viva La Baja!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Desert Series #4 - The Magdalena Plains

The fourth and final sub-region of the Sonoran Desert that encompasses land area on the Baja California Peninsula is the Magdalena Plains.

The other three segments were described in these previous blog entries:
Desert Series #1 - The Vizcaino Desert
Desert Series #2 - The San Felipe Desert
Desert Series #3 - Gulf Coast Deserts.

The Magdalena Plains sub-region lies south of the Vizcaino Desert(a designated Biosphere Reserve) and is the souternmost region of the Sonoran Desert. Located along the coastal plains and in the foothills this area receives less than 3 inches of rain a year, almost exclusively in the summer months from tropical storms.

The primary plant endemic to this area is the creeping devil (Stenocereus eruca) cacti, which literally grows along the desert floor. Thornscrub and other tropical plants, trees and shrubs can be found in the rocky inland foothills.

Author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula, available to order at www.vivalabaja.com.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Desert Series #3 - Gulf Coast Deserts

The Gulf Coast section of the Sonoran Desert extends from Bahia Los Angeles along the Sea of Cortez to the tip of the Peninsula (San Jose del Cabo). The further south you travel in Baja the hotter (generally speaking)it gets, with temperatures on the Sea of Cortez side approximately 10 degrees higher than the Pacific Coast. Summertime temperatures in the Gulf Coast Desert region often rise above 100F. Sizzling hot.

The mountain ranges on the Peninsula create a rain shadow effect on the Sea of Cortez side protecting it from winter rains. Much of the moisture found in this area comes from tropical storms during hurricane season. These tropical storms, or chubascos as they are also called, can have winds reaching speeds of up to 200 kph.

Cardon cacti are prevalent on the Gulf Coast often in large tracts. They are less dominant in desert forests north as they can not survive the winter frosts. Other trees in the Gulf Coast Desert include palo verde, ocotillo, ironwood and elephant trees. There are few small shrubs in this region as there shallow root systems and lack of water storage don't survive the long droughts that can last several years.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Desert Series #2 - The San Felipe Desert

The other primary desert region in the Baja California Peninsula (in addition to the Vizcaino Desert) is the San Felipe Desert. According to Brittanica Encyclopedia Online, "Areas with a mean annual precipitation of 10 in. (250 mm) or less are generally considered deserts". They take up one-third of the Earth's land surface.

The San Felipe Desert is located in the northeastern portion of the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert is approximately 120,000 square miles and covers area in Arizona, California, Baja and Sonora, Mexico. This eastern desert area is drier than the Vizcaino region to the west and vegetation is sparse.

Over 140 species of cacti can be found in the Sonoran Desert, with an abundance of Cardon Cacti in the San Felipe desert region. Cardon Cacti are the largest cacti species (growing up to 70 ft high and weighing up to 25 tons) and have been estimated to live over 300 years. A previous blog entry describing the difference between Cardon Cacti and the similar-looking Saguaro Cacti can be found here: Cardon Cacti & Saguaro Cacti - One in the Same?

A popular tourist attraction in San Felipe is the natural Cardon Cacti reserve with many specimens to oogle and awe over. One of these was transported to Seville, Spain in 1992 for an exhibit in the World's Fair. Here is a fun read of the trials and tribulations transporting a giant cacti across the world, complete with original photos: The Cardon of '92.

The tourist town (with many relocated expats) of San Felipe is one of many in Baja where the desert - San Felipe region of the larger Sonoran Desert - truly does meet the sea (Sea of Cortez), unlike anywhere else in the world.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Desert Series #1 - The Vizcaino Desert

The Vizcaino Desert is a primary desert region of Baja located on the western side of the Peninsula. According to Wikipedia (online encyclopedia), "Deserts are defined as areas that receive an average precipitation of less than 250mm (10in). They take up one-third of the Earth’s land surface". Annual rainfall in this area is approximately 5cm per year (2 inches) - with additional moisture from condensation of Pacific Ocean breezes.

The Vizcaino Desert is just south of Vizcaino Bay and encompasses the coast from Barra San Juan to El Rosario and includes the following mountain ranges: Cerro Matomí, Sierra San Luis, Sierra San Borja, Volcán Las Tres Vírgenes, and Sierra San Francisco. It, and Vizcaino Bay that is adjacent to the desert areas, are named after the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino. A map of the area can be viewed here: Desert Ecology - Baja California Deserts. It is a minor portion of the larger Sonoran Desert that encompasses areas in Arizona, California, and Sonora, Mexico as well.

The vegetation of this desert area includes the following types of cacti: senita, barrel, candelbra, cholla and sour pitaya. It also contains boojum, elephant trees and agaves stem or leaf succulents and the desert shrubs slipper plant and ball moss.

Photos and more information on Ocean Oasis' online Field Guide - Vizcaino Desert.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Express Mail Services in Baja

A previous post on sending and receiving a letter or package in Baja described regular postal services, including sending mail within the Peninsula by bus: Mail in the Baja & How to Receive a Package.

For many travelers and residents, 10 days plus to receive mail is not sufficient in many instances. For expedited service, some areas in Baja have businesses offering private, express mail services.

In Baja Norte, Rosarito Beach has two options: International Mail & Business Center (located in Quinta Plaza) and Mail Express & Extras (located behind Le Costeau).

In Baja Sur, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo have the following services: DHL Worldwide Express (in Plaza Copan) and MailBoxes Etc.(in Plaza Las Palmas).

When you are receiving mail from the U.S. using FedEx, DHL or other expedited services, remember that you usually have to give a street address in Baja, as most delivery companies will not deliver to a postal office.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Crime Alert Issued For Baja

I would rather be writing about fish... but crime seems to be a central issue currently in the Baja California Peninsula. Two previous blog entries on crime & safety are:

1. Safety in the Baja & What is the Risk of Travel
2. Men in Black - Who are These Masked Men in Baja?

On April 14th, 2008 the U.S. Department of State issued a new travel alert for the Baja California Peninsula, set to expire in October, 2008. The travel warning describes current happenings along the U.S. - Mexico Border such as:

** violent criminal activity between criminal organizations struggling for control of the narcotics trade

** confrontations between Mexican army and police forces against heavily armed drug cartels using machine guns and fragmentation grenades

** an increase of armed robberies and carjackings, "apparently unconnected to the narcotics-related violence" in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez

The article states, "Dozens of U.S. citizens were kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in 2007". Americans have been the victims of crimes but the majority of victims are Mexican, and the alert states that there is no evidence U.S. citizens are being targeted due to their nationality.

Crime may be on the rise in southern Baja as well, with recent armed robberies occurring in La Paz and the Todos Santos area. Residents are urged to keep doors and gates locked at all times. In the central Baja area, Mulege had an armed hijacking of an airplane at The Serenidad airstrip. The military have been sent to patrol the area.

Caution and common sense seems to be the name of the game for travelers to the Peninsula at present time - heed the advice of the U.S. Department of State and others; never travel at night, avoid the Tijuana-U.S. Border if driving and use the Tecate border instead, do not travel to or camp in remote locations, visit only legitimate businesses and tourist areas (that exclude brothels and cantinas), be extra alert to your surroundings, avoid traveling alone and displaying obvious signs of wealth (expensive jewelry, wads of cash, etc.).

Anyone and everyone who cares about the Peninsula can only hope that the situation eventually gets under better control.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Friday, April 18, 2008

Can Mexico follow in Peru´s Footsteps & Preserve Their Sportfishing Industry?

For fish farms to be a viable alternative to NOM-029 Mexico must stop much of the commercial fishing that is currently destroying the Sea of Cortez and it´s vast number of inhabitants. Peru dealt with a similar threat to it´s sportfishing industry and ocean environs, and has now taken the necessary steps to sustain the industry and support efforts at ocean conservation.

In conjunction with The Billfish Foundation Peru recently issued a presidential order that decommercializes the harvest and sale of marlins and sailfish. For more infomation read the online article: TBF Assists a Nation's President Set a New Standard for Billfish Conservation.

Can Mexico follow suit? Stop commercial fishing of sought-after sushi plate succulents and provide the supply by sustainable fish farms instead?

Mexico could partner with Japan - the main purchasers of fish from the seas of Baja - and make it illegal for Japanese businesses to buy commercially-caught fish from the Sea of Cortez. Japan could assist in the development of fish farms to meet their demand for supply, in partnership with Mexico. Japan and Mexico are familiar business partners already - with joint-ownership of the Exportadora de Sal (ESSA saltworks) outside of Guerrero Negro by Mitsubishi and Mexican government.

Fish farms are not a problem-free solution, but a viable alternative to meet the demand for fish - demand that is not going to go away but is predicted to increase annually. At least fish farms could target the intended species for sale such as Bluefin Tuna, rather than destructive fishing practices that incidentally kill thousands of forms of sea life in great numbers in pursuit of it.

Peru is setting an example for all of the world, that Mexico and other countries should strive to imitate.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sustainable Fish Farms in Baja

Mexico could be a world leader in sustainable fish farms, attracting scientists and researchers around the world in collaborative projects. Instead of a `Nautical Highway` currently being promoted by the Baja California State Tourism Secretariat to give wealthy yacht-owners stop-overs on their way up and down the peninsula and create a 80-mile overland road linking ocean (at Santa Rosalillita) to sea (at Bahia de los Angeles) -- how about a Fish Farm Industry that is world-reknown?

A good background article on the proposed Nautical Highway is this one by National Geographic: Can Mexico's Wild Baja California Endure New Marinas?

Creating sustainable fish farms would protect the vast natural wealth of the Peninsula, instead of pandering to the wealthy. Instead of 22 ports, how about 10 ports (or none) and 12 Fish Farms? Spend some of the 222 million starter-funds on a project that will help to preserve the environment of the Baja California Peninsula, not denegrate it.

In 2004, 43% of the global fish supply came from farmed sources, and the percentage increases annually. An opportunity for Mexican commercial and local fisherman, with support from government, to enter a market that will make good profit, supply demand coming from Japan & elsewhere, and keep the fish flowing for future generations of Baja inhabitants, sportfishing enthusiasts and tourists. Without the fish, what will Baja become?

Promote and create Fish Farms before it becomes a necessity -- due to destructive fishing practices decimating fish populations. Create new business opportunities for Mexican entreprenuers while preserving the already world-reknown sportfishing industry that attacts millions of visitors annually. Yachters like to fish too.

From the Marine Conservation Society (UK) website here is an article entitled Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fish Farming.

A major problem with fish farming - even closed-systems not using wild-caught fish for stock - is the food source they must be given to survive, can cause negative secondary effects for that marine species. Sacrificing a non-edible species, for farmed species raised for human consumption is not a sustainable, non-destructive environmental solution. It also affects other species, such as the wildlife that relys on that food source for survival, birds, etc. Scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) have made inroads to providing a solution - New breakthrough in sustainable fish farming and others are studying the issue as well.

One of many offering consulting services for all phases of fish farming development, management and production is Fisheries Technology Associates, Inc. located in Colorado.

The resources available on the Web are almost endless, and the Peninsula is home to The University of Baja California, College of Marine Science and the Institute for Oceanographic Investigation. Campuses are located in Mexicali (main campus), Ensenada, Tijuana, San Felipe, Tecate, San Quintin and La Paz.

For next weeks blog, I will see if I can complete an interview with a local Baja Oceanographer or marine scientist. Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fish Farming in Baja - A Solution to NOM-029?

Provide mouth-watering fresh, fish flesh for sushi lovers abroad and in the U.S., and profit-making ventures for commercial and local Baja business interests, while perserving the sanctity of the Sea of Cortez at the same time? Sounds almost too good to be true!

But it's not. Fish farming is a viable - and maybe the only - alternative to destructive fishing practices that are decimating many species of fish that call the Sea of Cortez home. Tuna farming in Baja does currently exist, but the goal by environmental orgranizations and scientists is to push for sustainable, ecologically-safe fish farms.

According to the 2005 article, Sustainability Assessment of Capture-Based Tuna Aquaculture in Mexico, written by the MSATAM Team (Marine Science Assessment of Tuna Aquaculture in Mexico), "... tuna farming in large nearshore net pens has expanded rapidly along the Baja Pacific coast north and south of the Tijuana-Ensenada Corridor. Mexican tuna are now estimated to comprise 10% of global tuna production (35,000 tons)."

The article also states, "Tuna ranching/farming is one of the fastest growing forms of aquaculture in the world today."

Farmed tuna - that use wild-caught fish (primarily Pacific Bluefin Tuna) that are kept in pens and fed small fish such as sardines - are sought-after for sushi due to the higher oil content of the fish. High-quality seems to fetch a high price. According to the article above, "Farm gate prices for Mexican farmed tuna are currently reported to be $12,000/ton.".

This article, Say Hola to Tuna From Mexico! describes the fish farming process in detail. The fish farms in Mexico should be more accurately called 'ranches' or 'capture-based tuna farming' because wild tuna are used for both stock and feeds. It states, "A true 'farm' would be one in which fish are raised from egg to adult stages in captivity...".

Tuna farms that use wild stock can devastate the habitat they come from. In the U.S., capture fisheries have decimated tuna stock in the Atlantic. Researchers and environmental organizations are trying to help prevent that from happening in the Pacific as well.

(From the article) Barry A. Costa-Pierce, a Professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island, states, "It is urgent that we develop an internationally credible scientific basis for sustainable tuna farming that could decrease pressure on tuna stocks, while also being environmentally and socially sustainable."

These efforts would also provide a viable solution to NOM-029, by giving commercial (and local) fishermen an alternative to over-fishing the Sea of Cortez. Fish farms could provide a means for profit-making and meet product demand for Baja fish coming from Japan (the majority of exports), the U.S. and elsewhere.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Help Save the Sea of Cortez & Overturn NOM-029

The fight to stop over-fishing in the Sea of Cortez has an extensive history. In October 2002 the Mexican Senate, with support from then president Vicente Fox, cancelled NOM-029-PESCA-2006, also known as Shark NORMA. Sea Watch and other environmental organizations had spent over $60,000 U.S to fight it.

Their victory turned into defeat May of 2007 when president Felipe Calderon passed a new NOM-029 into law. The reason? Commercial interests wanting the right to harvest more fish and make more money. Much of the demand for Baja fish comes overseas from Japan, where bluefin tuna can sell for as much as $45 a pound.

For a brief snapshot of the economic realities at play read the 2004 article Tuna Barons by The Fisherman's Voice.

A good article describing the basics of NOM-029 and the danger it poses to the health of all organisims that call the Sea of Cortez home is Marine Life Threatened in Sea of Cortez at ESPN.com

The Billfish Foundation, and their partners in Mexico, have retained an attorney and begun a series of legal procedures to fight for the modification of NOM-029 and to stop destructive fishing practices. The process and an outline of current actions taken by TBF are described in their online article, Mexican Senate Confronts Shark Norma Negotiations.

Help stop destructive fishing practices and protect the future of the Sea of Cortez.

The International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and other conservation organizations such as Sea Watch and The Billfish Foundation ask that you demand that NOM-029 be suspended until the following modifications are included:

** Prohibit commercial fishing in the 50 mile protected zones
** Address bycatch so that game fish may not be incidentally targeted and sold
** Regionalize fishing permits to evenly distribute fishing effort
** Vigilant enforcement of commercial vessels by the Armada de Mexico
** Stock assessment and catch and effort data be utilized in making management decisions

This information is included in the online article New Regulations in Mexico Threaten Marine Life in Sea of Cortez on the IGFA website. They have posted a link to an automated email system. Click on each politician's name, type in your full name and click 'submit'.

A pre-formed letter outlining the reasons NOM-029 should be overturned or amended is then sent to the politician in your name. A simple and easy way to have your opinion heard.

I will contact the above organizations by email, and ask to be informed if any new developments occur so that I can post a blog entry about it. Every little bit counts.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NOM-029 & Saving the Sea of Cortez

Vicente Fox may be gone from the political scene but hopefully some of his legacy will be revived. Five months after taking office, his presidential successor Felipe Calderon signed NOM-029 into law, a bill that many say legalizes destructive fishing practices in the Sea of Cortez.

Called a conservation catastrophe by The Billfish Foundation, NOM-029-PESCA-2006 is a measure that allows commercial longlining in coastal waters of the Sea of Cortez. Prior to NOM-029, commercial vessels were not allowed to fish for or possess marlin, sailfish, dorado and other protected species within 50 miles of the coastline. Only recreational anglers were allowed to fish in these protected zones.

The bill allows long-line fishing from more than 3,000 skiffs, with 350-hook lines, as close as 10 miles from the shore. Medium-size vessels, up to 233 of them with 1,000-hook lines, and enter the Sea of Cortez for massive catches (and bycatches) as close as 15 miles.

It seems ironic that a bill intending, supposedly, to protect a select few species, allows for activities that are decimating other protected populations of fish in the Sea of Cortez. And decimating they are. Sea Watch observed, filmed, and did the math.

Here is one days worth of destruction by a few commercial fishermen, totaled up (by Sea Watch): “Two boats caught around 400 dorado – 110 hooks and 53 dorado on each of them. Each boat had 5 km of longline with 600 to 700 baited hooks in the water. Multiply these numbers by the numbers of boats fishing and you suddenly have 5,000 to 10,000 small dorado being taken from Baja waters on any given day.”

More information and photographs are posted at the following locations on the Sea Watch website:



NOM-029 may currently be law, but the battle to save the marine life of the Sea of Cortez is hardly over. Laws, especially when counter-productive, can be overturned or amended. The following three paragraphs - quoted from a May, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times – illustrate both sides of the issue, and why NOM-029 is a misguided attempt to protect species such as Blue and Hammerhead Sharks and the Giant Ray in the Sea of Cortez.

Paragraph #1 “NOM-029 limits fishing pressure through permits and imposes gear and area restrictions designed to ensure sustainability. It bans the capture of certain sharks and rays; phases out of drift gill-nets; and outlaws finning, or slicing fins from sharks and throwing their writhing bodies overboard.”

** Why GreenPeace currently supports the bill **

Paragraphs #2 & #3 “But it does not adequately guard against exploitation of "bycatch" species such as dorado, or mahi-mahi, marlin and sailfish – species that gave rise to sportfishing-related tourism and supposedly are off-limits to commercial fishermen.”

“Long-line hooks do not discriminate. Marlin, sailfish and dorado fetch a higher price than sharks, which are already depleted. So it's reasonable to assume the bycatch species are really what the fishermen are after.”

** Why opponents are doggedly fighting it **

Next weeks blog entry - what you can do to help these and other organizations fighting to overturn NOM-029 and save the Sea of Cortez and all its inhabitants.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cardon Cacti & Saguaro Cacti - One in the Same?

Soaking up information on all things Baja like a beach-marooned sea sponge after a summer's drought, I believed everything I was told when first moving to the Peninsula. Pretty much. Don't even think of asking me about 'whale turds'!

Case in Point (another case): Cardon cactus is the same as saguaro found in the U.S., they are just called by different names. No, they are not the same but different, distinct species I now know. Here's the skivy.

The cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) is the world's largest cactus. They are one of over 1000 species of cacti found on the Peninsula (sources vary on this number, some saying 800 species, others 1200, so I took the middle road...). They have been measured at nearly 21 meters (70 feet) high and can weigh up to 25 tons. Cardon cacti have been estimated to live over 3000 years.

The cardon is native to Baja where it exists in large numbers. A small number of these cacti can also be found in Sonora, Mexico on the mainland, a part of the Sonoran Desert region that encompasses areas in the U.S. and Mexico.

The saguaro, on the other hand, is not native to the Baja California Peninsula and is rarely found living there. A small number of saguaro cacti are found in Sonora Mexico on the mainland also, but they are primarily located in the southwest desert of the U.S. in states such as New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Cardon cacti and the saguaro are similar in that they are both columnar cacti, with vertical framework that allows their trunks to expand to store large amounts of water when it is available, then contract when water is scarce. This is why they look similar, and many think they are one in the same.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Monday, February 25, 2008

Free Baja Travel Guide!

I got the crazy idea to write a relocation guide for the Baja California Peninsula last summer while living in Morelia, Mexico for a month. My son was in an arts school ($75 for the month paid for dance, music, drawing and theater classes, very cool & why we were there) and I was sitting around the main square in cafe´s, sipping espresso with little to do. Woe is me and why not write a book? Or something like that.

Three months later Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula was born and set into the eversphere (made available as an eBook through a website).

I really sunk my teeth into the project, grinding out chapters on real estate, medical insurance, environmental issues, tons of topics. Mid-way through I decided that the book would not be a valuable resource on Baja without a basic travel guide included. Driving the Peninsula, taking a ferry to the mainland, riding a bus, all these topics needed to be covered. So I did.

And afterwards, put together a separate document that could easily be printed-out for travelers to take on the road. Hence, Viva La Baja! Travel Guide was created and is now available to you for free (hey, if you read this blog, you should get something out of it!).

The guide includes: driving directions from Tijuana to Los Cabos; information about towns with a link to a website with more info; side trips to Bahia de los Angeles, Magdalena Bay and Cabo Pulmo; mileage between towns; car insurance & where to get a Mexican auto insurance policy; green angels & emergency assistance; riding a bus and ferry locations & schedules.

Also included is information on crime & safety with contact information for U.S. & Canadian embassies and where to report a crime.

Email info@vivalabajba.com and I will send you a copy.

Buen Viaje, Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mail in the Baja & How to Receive a Package

The Mexican mail burro has grown a set of wings. O.K., maybe not but he does have a bit more air under his feet. Receiving mail while living in Baja is slow, but not overly-so. Similar to other international destinations outside of the U.S. or Canada, two to three weeks seems to be the average time frame for delivery of a package.

If the package is later than two weeks it could be held-up in customs. One package of ours sent from Seattle went to Mexico City first, and took over a month to clear customs before being shipped back to Baja. During the extended wait, I was clueless to the cause of the delay, but became quite the familiar face at our local postal post, with weekly, then twice-weekly inquires "es mi caja aqui?" (is my package here?).

Here is one online service - USA2Me - to obtain a U.S. address for items to be sent to and then forwarded to Baja. After an initial $15 set-up fee, the monthly charge for basic service is only $5.

A better way may be to set-up this service in person while north of the border. If like me, you will have many interactions with this service provider, and knowing who is handling your personal items personally can be comforting when you have to call or email to figure out the cause of a delay or lost package.

The biggest drawback to buying new items in the U.S.or Canada and having them shipped is custom fees. You can be charged up to 38 percent of the declared value of your package. If you use an express mailing service to expedite delivery (5-10 days) such as DHL or Federal Express, you may be charged a fee of approximately $15 (even if the contents are not dutiable) to cover the services of the customs broker.

If you do not want to purchase a mailbox at your local Baja post office, you can have mail sent to you general delivery or 'Lista de Correos' (in Spanish). Your address will look something like this:

Your Name
Lista de Correos
Your Baja town, zip code, Baja California Sur or Norte
(city, postal code, state)

Packages can be shipped from Baja town to Baja town via bus. Take the package to your local bus station and request it to be delivered to you chosen address... but make sure you have someone on the receiving end (bus stop at end destination) to pick it up.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Friday, February 15, 2008

Movies in the Baja & Where to See a Good Flick

The most recent movie we saw in a movie theater -- un-researched & spur of the moment -- was "The Woman of My Nightmares" (title of the movie in Latin America, "The Heartbreak Kid" in the U.S.). Ben Stiller (big like) plus deviated septum chick from Hell added up to the movie of our nightmares. And I thought 'SuperBad' was bad.

The first for my son and maybe second for me, we walked out mid-way through, not caring that the plot seemed to be picking up with actress Michelle Monaghan entering the scene. This review from eFilmCritic.com wasn't too favorable either. Mail-order DVD's and computer downloads here I come. Love the big-screen experience, but home-made popcorn is better for you anyways.

If living in Baja (no Blockbusters in site) and wanting the home movie experience as well, DVD's can be mail-ordered from these locations: Movies Unlimited, Buy.com, or DVD Empire. And of course there is always Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, though not the lowest cost options.

Another option is online DVD Clubs (join and get five DVDs for 49 cents or less each...) such as Columbia House and Disney.

Whether they will ship to Mexico or not is a good blog topic for another day. My work-around is to have a U.S. address at a mailbox company in the states, have my online purchases shipped there, and then re-packaged and shipped to my Baja address.

If you are the owner of a large gigabyte hard-drive computer, and wouldn't mind watching the flick on your computer screen, you can avoid shipping costs and hassles all together by downloading films from one of these online locations: MovieFlix.com or Apple.

MovieFlix.com (Windows & Mac) For you oldies out there, they give free downloads to ancient... I mean golden oldies television series and movies such as "Dragnet", "American Empire", "A Christmas Carol" and others. With a $9.95 monthly subscription, you have thousands more (and more current) options.

New releases can be downloaded to your computer for a pay-per-view cost ($3-4) from Apple iTunes. The film will stay on your computer for 30 days, or until is viewed, whichever comes first. The file may take hours to download, but just select and load before going to bed. In the morning you should be ready to roll.

If you want the public theater experience, venues can be found in most large towns & cities on the Peninsula such as Tijuana, Rosarito Beach (Playas de Rosarito), Ensenada, La Paz and Los Cabos.

For all you high-class folks out there, there is a planetarium movie theatre in Tijuana. There are four Omni Theaters located in Mexico.

Here's to no more nightmares, Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Love in the Baja: Strip Clubs, Cantinas & Where are all the Singles?

You've found your life partner, man/woman of your dreams, your soul mate. Congrats! I am sure your Valentine's Day will be filled with heart-felt exchanges and sweet somethings. Now what about the rest of us?

True love may be hard to find, but for all the effort you may as well shoot for the stars. If in Baja Norte and looking for love - friend and family resources, and dates with available prospects, already taxed to the max - skip the brothels and head to Ensenada for a night out at the Octopus Discoteque or Carajo.

If a bit on the lazy side, this site - One Love Net - has two available hotties for gals living North. Yep, that's right TWO. Yahoooooo. Guys have more online dating possibilities at Amigos.com. For those in Baja Sur, online dating and chat services are available through Cafe Tropic.

Or how about a cooking class, and play the odds you won't be the only one unattached. For Baja Norte, an elegant option is the Rancho La Puerta in Tecate. They offer arts and craft classes, writing seminars, and have themed fitness 'specialty weeks' in yoga, Pilates, hiking or meditation.

If your'e a southerner (Baja Sur inhabitant) guy or gal, there is Cook With Us in Todos Santos. Or you can throw in a week of Spanish immersion lessons along with three nights of Mexican cooking classes with this program offered through Sea & Adventures Inc. in La Paz.

To take a trip to Baja geared for those seeking a match made in paradise, Singles Travel Company organizes fishing excursions to La Paz for singles. You may get lucky - catch a big one and find a new love all in one shot. In April, they offer a 3-day Baja Mexico cruise aboard the Carnival cruise ship Paradise, visiting Ensenada and surrounds.

Singles Travel International hosts trips to Baja for those looking for love as well.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a loving, committed relationship already, and want to keep that love strong, you may enjoy the book "Together Forever - A Relationship Book for Couples" by Suzanne Marie Bandick. Not pop pychology, just well-intentioned advice and musings from someone lucky enough to find love early and make it last.

Happy hunting and Valentine's Day! Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Brrrrr + Sun = Winter in Baja!

Last year we arrived back in our small town of Mulege on Dec 31st after two months in drizzly Seattle. Tropical Storm John (Sept 2006) had devastated the town and left many, including my son and I, temporarily homeless.

From summer sauna our small (I mean shoe-box size) casita had turned into a winter ice-box. Freezing with a capital 'F'. We slept that first night with a full set of clothes on, winter coats included.

The next morning it took five hours or so of daylight to remind me why I loved the place so much - brilliant sun high in the sky causing me to sweat while walking into town with only a T-shirt on.

Mulege is considered Central Baja (casually, not officially) and is approximately 176 miles from the 48th parallel point at Guerrero Negro -- the official designation separating Baja California Norte (North from GN to Tijuana) from Baja California Sur (South from GN to Cabo San Lucas). This middle of Baja terrain - San Ignacio, Santa Rosalia, Mulege, Loreto, Ciudad Constitution - has freezing temperatures in winter, scorching & humid highs during the summer months.

The southern-end of the Peninsula - La Paz to Los Cabos (Cabo San Lucas & San Jose del Cabo) has more warmth in the winter (including warmer nights), but similar oppressively hot (to most sane folks) summers, often continuing through September.

To steer clear of these temperature highs and lows, you can remain in Northern Baja - the area from Tijuana to Ensenada approximately - where the climate is more Mediterranean. This area has hot, dry summers and wet, warm winters with temperatures ranging from 85 to 50 degrees F, on average. Head into the desert extremes further south and you drop down to the 40s, and climb up into the 90s to 100s (La Paz can have temps up to 115 degrees!).

Today, Ensenada is experiencing temperatures ranging from the mid 50s degrees F to 46 degrees F. Mulege has a high of 70 degrees F, and lows in the 50s. La Paz is heating up to 76, and dropping to the low 60s. MSN weather covers most Baja cities and towns.

This Web page - Weather Mexico - is a good read on weather patterns and temps throughout all areas of Mexico, including the Baja California Peninsula.

In solidarity with all current Baja winter-inhabitants, we are freezing our buns off in Xela, Guatemala. The city is located in a dry, mountainous area with chill-you-to-the-bones nights and mornings, followed by sparkling sunny and warm afternoons. Much like many areas of Baja. Nights drop to the low 30s F and you wake up not wanting to get out from underneath the mother-lode of blankets on top of you. Heat... ha, ha! No such thing as heaters here... at least where we have stayed.

Can't wait to be Baja-bound, in the heat or cold! Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Friday, January 18, 2008

Men in Black - Who are These Masked Men in Baja?

A month and a half ago my son and I took an ABC Express bus from Mulege to Tijuana, leaving at 3p.m. and arriving the next morning at 7a.m. We had planned to stay overnight at the Baja Cactus Motel in El Rosario but when we arrived at 11p.m. they were full. Cold & dark, luckily they were slow to take our luggage off so we were able to hop back on the bus and continue North.

Around 6a.m. we were driving past Rosarito Beach and I saw a group of eight or ten machine gun toting, black-masked men standing outside of a medical clinic. A medical clinic, not a bank. The whole thing seemed a bit strange but our driver paid no notice and the building was right on Mexican Federal Highway 1 with a regular stream of cars zipping by. Must be the police on some mission, I thought.

It may have been, or may have not. The Federal Judicial Police of Mexico (black uniforms & masks) - notoriously corrupt - was replaced by the Federal Investigations Agency in 2002. This elite police force wears black uniforms and masks as well and of course are heavily armed. They are often referred to as 'federales', similar to saying 'the feds' in the U.S.

The police force wearing army fatigues, also heavily armed, are the PFP - Federal Preventative Police. They provide street patrols and may be seen on duty at bus stations, airports and patrolling the highways.

That's a basic description of the official version of Men in Black. And officially, they have not always been the good guys. Prior to the recent reported crimes that have terrorized more than a few Baja travelers, masked-men assumed to be a part of one of these police agencies have been accused of horrendous deeds:

New York Times, September, 1996 - Crime Wave Leaves Mexicans Wary of Federal Police.

New York Times, June, 1991 - Mexico To Combat Police Corruption.

Suspected wrong-doers have been dismissed and replaced in droves over and over again.

It's no wonder the U.S. consulate in Tijuana is not issuing new travel alerts (as of the date of this blog entry) for U.S. persons crossing the border... to them this may be old news, more of what has been going on for decades. The main difference is it is now affecting more American Tourists, as opposed to primarily Mexicans, yet the consulate does not see a 'widespread increase' in attacks.

Quoted from a January 5th, 2008 Associated Press article entitled Wave of Crime Washes Away Baja's Tourism: "Charles Smith, spokesman for the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, said the U.S. government has not found a widespread increase in attacks against Americans, but he acknowledged many crimes go unreported."

We can only hope that crimes such as those that have occurred recently continue to be reported (and re-reported in the news media) to the extent that U.S. and Mexican officials are prompted to make effective changes, and Americans, Canadians and other Baja travelers are given accurate, pertinent information about the current risks of travel to the Baja California Peninsula.

Safe travels, Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Safety in the Baja & What is the Risk of Travel?

As a follow-up to the previous blog entry on surfing in Baja, a write-up on safety issues is important. You do not have to look far to read stories of recent armed assualts and robbery committed against tourists in the Baja California Peninsula, especially in areas close to the Mexican/Tijuana border - and south down to Ensenada. Border patrol agents have been victims as well.

More than one person reports being held at gunpoint by masked men and robbed. A sexual assult has been reported by a San Diego resident camping in Baja with her boyfriend while on a surfing adventure. If you subscribe to the New York Times, you have seen the article, "Surf's up, and So Is the Crime Rate on Baja's Beaches". For more information and stories recanted by victims jump onto Yahoo and you will find a January 5th article entitled, "Tourists Shun Crime-Hit Mexico Beaches".

An article written by a U.S. border patrol agent and published at SignOnSanDiego.com claims, "... nearly twice a day, the men and women of the San Diego Sector Border Patrol are subjected to violent assaults from criminals operating in Mexico".

So is it safe, or is it not? No one can answer that question, and of course many travel to and from Mexico without incident, including crossing at the Tijuana/San Ysidro (San Diego) border. It is estimated that more than 50 million persons cross annually.

A more important question may be whether the situation is being addressed by law enforcement personnel effectively. Many say no, that criminals are not brought to justice and that much of the crime is committed by Mexican law enforcement personnel themselves, or knowingly allowed due to threat of retaliation or after accepting money/bribes. A November 19th article published on KFOXTV.com states, "Juarez (another border town) and Tijuana are listed on the state department website as having a rising number of car crashes in which police ask Americans for money".

That's the Mexico-end of things... what about our U.S. consulate and their assessment of the current danger to Americans traveling in Baja? There are no current warnings about Mexico on the U.S. Department of State website. Most of the current postings are about new passport regulations.

AllSafe Travels lists links to current travel advisories for Mexico by multiple countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. as well as the U.S. No new safety alerts (for the past three months plus) have been posted by any of these countries.

As an end note, I am living/traveling in Central America at the moment, but plan to return to Baja to live, travel, work and play. Will I worry about safety? Yes. Will I fear for my life around every corner? No.

The main precautions I will take are to NEVER travel at night, will not camp in Northen Baja (from Tijuana to Ensenada and up to Guerrero Negro) unless in a large group, will avoid the Tijuana border (crossing at Tecate if driving), not drive a fancy SUV or newer automobile, and will read posts from other travelers and long-time resident expats on Baja listservs and newsgroups such as Baja Nomad, prior to traveling.

Other than that, most likely will have a wonderful time, in an incredibly gorgeous area of our planet.

Safe travels, Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula