Sunday, December 13, 2009

Baja Travel - Taking the Ferry

The previous blog post covered bus travel on the Peninsula: Baja Travel - Riding the Bus. This post gives the basic run-down on riding the ferry - either one of them!

From mainland Mexico you can take a ferry across to Baja from Guaymas, Topolobampo and Mazatlan. Guaymas is located on the mainland in the state of Sonora while Topolobampo and Mazatlan are both in Sinaloa. Websites for all routes are listed below.

Approximate Travel Time and Costs:
The private cabins listed below contain two bunk beds, and may or may not have a private bathroom. Children up to age 11 are half-price on all routes. Infants up to one years of age are free.

Guaymas to Santa Rosalia: approximately 7 hours, $65 USD per person, $75 USD for a private cabin.
Topolobampo to La Paz: approximately 9 hours, 710 pesos ($71 USD) per person, 760 pesos ($76 USD) for a private cabin with bathroom for up to four people.

Mazatlan to La Paz: approximately 18 hours, 800 pesos ($80 USD) per person, 250 pesos ($25 USD) for a private cabin for up to four people; bathroom separate. We´ve traveled this route twice, the cabins are simple with two bunk beds and a window. The boat is large and the ride smooth, you will most likely never notice a wave much less get seasick.

All three ferry systems have food and bar service, car and overnight accommodations. Dogs are allowed but must be in a kennel (or kept in the car) and cannot enter the cabins but stay outside on deck. We traveled with our medium sized Rat Terrier this way and he did just fine. No one bothered him, I was allowed to take him out of the kennel to walk on the deck - was just not permitted to enter the cabin area. Staff were helpful and seemed to keep an eye on him as well.

There is a full-bar on deck that has a large T.V. screen and shows videos, children are welcome. Meals are nothing special, very basic Mexican fare but an assortment of snacks are available for purchase.

More Information & Websites:
For more information on Baja Ferries, including the cost to transport a vehicle, click here to view.

The Santa Rosalia to Guaymas route has an additional website: click here to view.

Happy travels, Molly
Author of Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baja Travel - Riding the Bus

Buy your boleto (ticket) at the taquilla (no, that is not Tequila!) and be on your way. First-class bus service in Baja is comfortable (movies & commodes), efficient (minus unavoidable road construction delays), and low-cost. Just be prepared for varied service and bus stations. No two are alike.

There are two primary bus companies serving the Baja California Peninsula: ABC and Aguila. ABC (Autotransportes de la Baja California) operates in the Peninsula from Tijuana to Los Cabos. Aguila serves travelers in Baja California Sur venturing from Guerrero Negro to the Los Cabos... and back! ABC has a website, currently in Spanish-only: http://www.abc.com.mx/.

Baja California Sur

In La Paz, anyone will give you directions to the main bus terminal (estacion del autobus mejor), on the malecon with: Sea of Cortez view, air conditioning and magazine and snack kiosk. If purchasing a premier plus ticket to ride on Peninsula Ejectivo, you also have a private room with computer terminals at your service – top of the line serving a direct route from La Paz to Los Cabos (only).

Wandering the off-streets a mile or so away, you may come across the less-fancy bus station with ATP (Autotransportes La Paz) service. First class busses as well but at less cost. ATP charges around $17 USD to Cabo San Lucas whereas Aguila on the malecon charges around $14 USD. Premier plus service will cost you a bit more.

Routes vary from one company to the other. ATP has no service to the East Cape, only to Todos Santos and other towns in the West Cape. As well, when you pay for a taquilla (ticket) one-way to a town, do not expect the same price heading back in the other direction. On ATP, a one-way fare to Cabo San Lucas from La Paz is around 150 pesos, but returning to La Paz will cost you close to 120 pesos.

Baja California norte

Two terminals for Tijuana – old and new. Old downtown terminal at Calle Comercio and Avenida Madero that serves local bus lines. The Central Bus Terminal (Central de Autobuses), with all the bells and whistles you would expect, is located at the corner of Lazaro Cardenas and Alamar.


ABC covers the entire Peninsula. You can take the red eye from Tijuana and arrive in Cabo San Lucas in approximately 24 hours. Cost is approximately $170 USD. All first-class buses are comfortably air-conditioned, have bathrooms (bring your own TP just in case), multiple ceiling-mounted T.V. screens for videos (often in English, once we had one in French… go figure) and reclinable seating.

From the U.S., tourists or North American escapees can tap into the entire system at the main Greyhound bus terminal in downtown San Diego and ride across the border into Tijuana.

Hot Tip: Planning a bus trip? Buy Dramamine, even if you have never taken an aspirin in your life. This goes triple if traveling with children. Also, even in the heat of summer bring a blanket. It is not uncommon for air-conditioning to be set on high and left there even as icicles form on the windows.

In summary, it is hard to know what to expect from one bus terminal to the next. Some have snacks and drinks available only, others a selection of these plus sandwiches and magazines as well as tourist trinkets. Then you stop through Los Barriles expecting a cold soda, and find a brick shell of a building with no amenities, only a primitive baño outback. Each town is different, plan ahead accordingly.

As well, bus drivers may stop for a few minutes at a snack kiosk when on a long stretch, but often times he or she will cruise straight through to the next scheduled stop. Unpredictability seems to be law in Baja.

Molly
Author of Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Learning Spanish in Baja - For Adults

Enough with the fish already. How about information for those who want to travel to Baja and work on their Spanish language skills?

A previous blog post covered Spanish language learning for children: Learning the Language - For Kids. This post is to offer a few options for adults who want to take Spanish courses.

The newest kid on the block in southern Baja is Spanish in Cabo who opened their doors in April of this year in the town of San Jose del Cabo. They offer competively priced immersion, group and private classes for all ages levels and abilities.

In addition, you can continue with your Spanish courses with Spanish in Cabo after the few weeks of fun in the sun is over via the Internet. They have an online program that allows you to take private one-on-one lessons from any location in the world with just a SKYPE connection and email account.

La Paz is a hotbed for Spanish language learning with multiple schools to choose from. A couple for you to contact for more information are Se Habla La Paz, S.C. and the Centro de Idiomas, Cultura y Comunicacion.

If traveling to La Paz for a language learning adventure, make sure to take a boat trip to Isla Espirito Santos Island to jump in the water and swim amongst the sea lions. It is an unforgettable experience.

Northern Baja has too many choices to adequately cover here - do an independent Google search online to wade through a multitude of options at all price ranges. For a quick start you can check out these schools, located in Ensenada and San Felipe respectively: Baja California Language College and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California.

Buena suerte! Molly
www.vivalabaja.com

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Baja Hurricane Resources & Relief for Hurricane Jimena

Hurricane Jimena lessened in strength before hitting Baja as a Category 1 Hurricane but still unleashed plenty of fury with wind and rain, causing catastrophic destruction in the central Baja area (Ciudad Constitution, San Carlos, Mulege, Loreto and other), and taking the life of an elderly Mexican man. Hurricane season runs officially from June 1st to November 30th. Most storms occur in the months of August and September.

A tropical depression is the first pre-hurricane stage, with wind speeds of 38 mph. The next phase pre-hurricane is a tropical storm, with winds from 39-73 mph. Tropical storms are given names. The flooding from the heavy rains of a tropical storm can wreck havoc of catastrophic degree in an area, such as what occurred in the town of Mulege from Tropical Storm John in September of 2006 and now again in 2009 - flash floods from rainfall plus winds courtesy of Hurricane Jimena.

When a tropical storm’s constant wind speed reaches above 73 mph, you have a hurricane on your hands and should be prepared to evacuate if it becomes necessary. You can read a list of Baja California Peninsula hurricanes from years prior to 1949 up until September, 2007 (Hurricane Henriette) online courtesy of Wikipedia - List of Huricanes.

To keep up-to-date on hurricane and storm activity, one online resource of many is The National Weather Service-National Hurricane Center at: www.nhc.noaa.gov. A more local resource is The Baja Insider – an eZine covering Baja California norte primarily. You can sign-up to receive news updates regularly via email, including during hurricane season. Visit their website for more information: www.bajainsider.com.

When a storm hits, local reports from Baja residents and travelers posted on popular list servs & message boards such as La Paz Gringos and Baja Nomad is often the best and most accurate information.

You can view the posts on Baja Nomad without having to sign-up or log-in. Go to the website, click on 'forums' and select a category. Members of Baja Nomad are currently organizing relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Jimena. Click on the heading 'General Baja Discussion' and you will see a thread title "Hurricane Relief Supplies". La Paz Gringos has information on where to drop-off donations in the La Paz area.

These efforts by expats are in addition to the support of local communities, both Mexican and foreign. The Mexican government sets-up shelters, provides relief supplies and aid, including protection for property owners from looters with patrols by the Mexican army as well as other support. When people are displaced from homes and in a state of emergency through no fault of their own, every little bit helps.

Molly
www.vivalabaja.com

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vigilance Program - Where to Report Fishing Violations

The last Viva La Baja! post gave the basics of the new (and first) citizen-funded and run vigilance program in La Paz: Hot News - Commercial Fishing Vigilance Program. For a more in-depth account of the program, including its origins in 2007, visit the Sea Watch Mexico website and read the article, Mexico's First Citizen-Funded And Run Vigilance Program Starts.

If you are not much of an online reader, and just want the hard, cold facts given to you in a viewable and informative YouTube video... look no further. Click here and wait a minute or two for the five minute video "Hookah Divers Are Killing The Sea" to load onto your desktop. You won´t be disappointed and most likely overwhelmed with emotion at the unecessary and all-encompassing destruction that has been, and is continuing to be, inflicted on the Sea of Cortez and its inhabitants, specifically in this video - species of fish that call the reefs home.

Illegal activities can be reported via email to Sea Watch at reports@seawatch.org. If you would like to participate more fully and/or become a member of Plataforma, please go to this Web page to sign-up: Observatorio Ciudadano. The page contains detailed information on the program and how participants can help stop the massive destruction being inflicted on the Sea of Cortez by commercial fishermen who - simply put - could care less.

As quoted from Sea Watch, "The goal of Plataforma is to get the vast majority of honest fishermen, both commercial and sports fishermen, as well as the cruising community involved in detecting and reporting illegal acts, thereby creating a net of concerned people with the common goal of protecting the Bay."

Go Sea Watch and Plataforma.

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

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hot News - Commercial Fishing Vigilance Program

A new 'Pescadores vigilantes' program has begun in Baja California Sur in an attempt to put an end to illegal commercial fishing interests (not local hook and line fishermen) in the Sea of Cortez. The program allows anyone to report illegal fishing activities anonymously without fear of retribution, either in person, by phone or via email. The illegal activity will then be published in the La Paz paper - every 20 days - that lists the boats stopped, the denuncias filed, what the authorities have done to date and the final resolution (fines issued).

The program is being funded by Sea Watch and it´s supporters at an estimated $8000 USD per month. Here is some background information provided by Mike McGettigan - founder of SeaWatch.

"We have been very busy starting a civil society sponsored and run vigilance program. It is under the banner of "Plataforma" and is being funded in it's first 90 days of operation by Sea Watch. The group "Plataforma" which Sea Watch helped start is now quite strong and is supported by Mexico's largest NGO's."

"We have always felt you have to start with Vigilance and enforcement. Otherwise you start by setting up marine protected areas, marine parks, sanctuaries, etc. and they immediately become the private fishing grounds of the strongest illegal fishermen. There are fishermen that fight (and pay) to have the rights to fish in the protected areas."

Things are off to a successful start - on the first nocturnal Vigilance program of Plataforma in the Bay of La Paz (June 22-24) they caught 8 boats fishing illegally. The illegal activity will then be published in the La Paz paper as mentioned above.

Mike states, "It will be a score card that forces the authorities to do their job which is to arrest boats fishing illegally and prosecute them."

Good news for Baja and all Sea of Cortez marine life.

Next blog entry - Where & how to report illegal activities.

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

Monday, July 6, 2009

Update on the Million Dollar Plan

I didn´t want to continue writing about Programa Rector Nacional without giving the primary Mexican organization in-charge - CIBNOR - a fair chance of responding and offering information about the program such as what has been accomplished, what is being worked on and what the end goals are. To read a previous background post on the Million Dollar Plan and CIBNOR, click here: The Million Dollar Plan - Who´s In Charge?.

I tried various contacts through their website and was eventually referred to the program called Ecologia Pesquera - supposedly that has folks working on Programa Rector Nacional. The information page on the CIBNOR website in English is located here: Fisheries Ecology. A short email was sent to the director of the program (maybe too short) that now needs a bit of follow-through and possibly a search for additional contacts and sources as I have yet to recieve any reply.

I was just hoping for a little information on how things are going as many are rooting for their success in using these funds to change the disastrous direction of the current state of things (over-fishing creating near-extinct species such as bluefin tuna), create sustainable fisheries laws and protect the future of the Sea of Cortez and all its inhabitants.

As new developments arise I will make new posts. Until then, we can all keep our fingers crossed.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Million Dollar Plan - Who´s in Charge?

This is part II of a series on the 'Million Dollar Plan'. For background information read part I: Baja Fish - How Would You Spend a Million Dollars?

CIBNOR has been granted the contract to develop the PROGRAMA RECTOR NACIONAL: DIAGNÓSTICO Y PLANIFICACIÓN REGIONAL DE LA PESCA Y ACUACULTURA EN MEXICO E INCIDENCIA EN EL ESTADO DE BCS through CONAYCT. So the first question I asked myself is, "Who is CIBNOR"? Until researching online, I hadn´t a clue. And thanks to CIBNOR and their extremely well-done and informative website that includes an English version ( click here to view) I was able to gather the basics of their mission and purpose. I hope for additional posts about the proposed PROGRAMA RECTOR NACIONAL to be able to contact and communicate with someone at CIBNOR directly.

CIBNOR, or The Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, S.C., (Northwestern Center for Biological Reasearch) is a research center whose mission is to contribute to the welfare of society through scientific research, technological innovation, and human resource development in sustainable management of natural resources.

Quoted from the website: "CIBNOR was established in 1975 (initially as CIB - Center for Biological Research) by the Government of the State of Baja California Sur and CONACYT (National Council for Science and Technology) to promote the development of science and technology in the area."

Specialties that biologists and graduate students perform research in are the following: Agronomy, Algae, Aquaculture, Biochemistry, Biodiversity, Bioethics, Biotechnology, Birds, Cacti, Climate, Coasts, Computer Science, Conservation / Restoration, Contamination, Crustaceans, Ecological Regulation, Ecology, Ecophysiology, Education, Engineering / Artificial Intelligence, Environmental Economy, Environmental Impace, Enzymes, Fish, Fisheries, Genetics, Geographic Information Systems, Geology, Health, Hydrology, Marine Botany, Marine Organisms, Marine Turtles, Mastozoology, Microbiology, Mollusks, Nutrition, Oceanography, Oxidative Stress... to name just a few. Alphabetized topics continue to "W", ending with Wild fauna.

Scientific studies and articles on all these topics and others are posted on their website: Specialties. It seems there are more than a few very highly qualified folks in charge of the Million Dollar Plan. Can they get the results needed to protect the Sea of Cortez and all its marine inhabitants?

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

Monday, April 13, 2009

Baja Fish - How Would You Spend a Million Dollars?

** Part I of a series on the 'Million Dollar Plan' to help Mexican fisheries and the Sea of Cortez i.e. the proposed PROGRAMA RECTOR NACIONAL **

Do you care about fish and the survival of all marine life in the Sea of Cortez? Yes... excellent. Now, how would you use a million dollars to create sustainable fisheries and proposed state laws to protect them?

That is the situation now given to the state of Baja California Sur (southern Baja, south of the Guerrero Negro 48th parallel dividing line) by the Mexican Federal Government. Baja Califonia Sur will be given an approximate one million dollars ($11,000,000.00 pesos) to write their own sustainable fisheries laws. The document was signed in the last months of 2007 and is currently in the process of being implemented in a three-phase process:

** diagnostic of "how are the things doing in our coasts"
** new fisheries law
** initiate a plan of how to manage the fisheries in Baja Sur

SeaWatch - is one organization following the proposal to ensure the goals of protecting marine life and creating sustainable fisheries are sufficiently met. The following background information has been provided by SeaWatch:

The Government of the State of Baja California Sur hired the services of the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste CIBNOR to develop a project called "PROGRAMA RECTOR NACIONAL: DIAGNÓSTICO Y PLANIFICACIÓN REGIONAL DE LA PESCA Y ACUACULTURA EN MEXICO E INCIDENCIA EN EL ESTADO DE BCS " the results will be: A final and comprehensive report of that master plan, the proposed State Plan for Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Proposed State Law on Fisheries and Aquaculture. For this purpose the State Government got Federal Government's resources through CONACYT to pay for CIBNOR services ($11,000,000.00 pesos).


Coming Next: More on the 'Million Dollar Plan'. Is CIBNOR doing their job?

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Peso to Dollar Exchange Rate - Can You Afford to NOT Live in Baja?

Life´s good, have another Tecate. Buy yourself a keg for that matter, at the current peso to U.S. dollar exchange rate of 15 plus to one, you can afford it. And maybe now you can afford that dream to live on the Peninsula. How long will the good times last? Your guess is most likely much better than mine but here is some basic information.

The last I heard of the exchange rate was when I wrote a feature story a few months back and called it a ´whopping´ 13 (pesos) to 1 (USD) - now what should it be called at 15 to 1... unbelievable? That's a bit how I felt when I did a quick check online this a.m. realizing I needed to update my relocation guide as it seems to be only increasing, not falling back to the approximate 11 or 10 peso to 1 it was for years prior.

According to this online graph at X-rates.com the current spike occurred in February - rising a peso from a January rate of 14 to 1 to the current 15 to 1. The increase to the current highs began in October.

If I was living there at present time (currently traveling abroad) I would simply be giddy. Living on a budget becomes much more fun when you get an additional monthly $200 USD or so. I would imagine those with the means and desire to buy Baja real estate are enjoying the current economic climate as well.

And again, how long is this current situation going to hold? Here is one online source - Financial Forcast Center, LLC - with predictions up to September, 2009. They guess in six months time the rate will return to approximately 13 (peso) to the USD. Still, an amazing value for those wanting to Go Baja.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Free Travel Guide Download Now Available

Viva La Baja! Travel Guide - a basic resource for persons new to Baja who want to relocate or plan a trip is now available as a free and easy to dowload PDF file. The guide includes information on: driving the Peninsula with mileage between towns; side-trips; highlights of a town; rules of the road; taking the ferry to or from the mainland; riding the bus and more such as consulate listings and crime & safety information.

The guide was written for customers of Viva La Baja! Relocation & Real Estate Guide to the Baja California Peninsula but now is available for free to download for anyone who may find it useful. If you know of anyone - pass on the link!

Viva La Baja! Travel Guide Free Download.

The guide will be downloaded to your desktop as a PDF file. To read a PDF file on your computer you will need to have a version of Adobe Acrobat installed - most computers have this software but you can download free from here: Adobe Reader.

I wanted the guide to be a general resource with lots of great info and tips, but not to compete with some of the great guides on the market such as Moon Handbooks Baja - so did not put in restaurant or hotel listings except when is a highlight of an area. Moon Handbooks Baja is a comprehensive resource with hotel and restaurant listings (of course) - yet you have to pay for it - around $16 USD.

I will say, this is the best guide/resource you are going to find for free online. I have viewed the multitude of websites out there. None offer the extent of info I have researched and provided.

Go Baja, Molly
www.vivalabaja.com

Friday, January 30, 2009

Keeping U.S. Vehicle Registration Up-To-Date While Living in Baja

A new year means at some point your U.S.-licensed vehicle tabs are going to have to be renewed. When living in Baja and driving a U.S. auto, you need to have your registration and driver's license current, or are subject to a fine or worse - one American driving with false tabs in Baja Sur had his car confiscated by the Mexican Police. Not fun, don't let it happen to you!

If you want to keep U.S. registration on your auto and be legal in Baja and in the U.S., but can´t do that through your previous state of residence or it is too costly, here is a work-around that some others do. This information came from a member of LaPaz Gringo yahoo group. LaPaz Gringos is a nice low-key group for the Baja Sur area to ask questions, get info etc. You can sign-up for free here: La Paz Gringos.

The post on La Paz gringos was submitted by "The Bread Guy". Thank you Bread Guy for allowing me to reprint the below. The information was first posted on BajaNomad message board, according to the Bread Guy.

---------------- Quoted from La Paz Gringos ----------------

Rather than undergo the hassle and expense of renewing my California license plates, I successfully registered with the state of South Dakota. They do not require smog checks or proof of insurance and are much less expensive.

Just call Cathy Powell, treasurer, Clay County, SD at 605+677-7123. You must have a clear title (which you will submit along with the appllication), and a US mailing address. In the application one window asks for "South Dakota drivers license or Social Security number".

I was very honest with her about the situation and she was really great in talking me thru the process.... what a difference from the indifference of big time California.

Anyway, go to their website at: http://www.claycountysd.org/ and print out an Adobe file with the application. Fill-out each page as an original (You will not fill-out the last form as it is addressed to the lienholder , not necessary for your transaction). Then these forms have to be mailed as they are originals, and you include your title. I sent mine priority mail and had my new plates and tags in about ten days. The new title took about three weeks as it is actually processed at the state level.

--------------------- End Quote -------------------

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