What’s Going On In This Country?

Teachers’ union goes nuts again.  The latest target of the teacher’s union members’ unhappiness with allowing their skills to be evaluated is the lower house of Congress, which they shut down. Camping out on the railroad tracks cost so many people so much money, that the tactic proved pretty unpopular. Nobody cares about Congress, so now they’re targeting them.

Stolen border fence. Some new barbed wire placed atop the border wall in Tijuana didn’t stay there long: it is now serving to improve security at several area homes on the southern side of the border. The wire was installed to reinforce the Mexico-U.S. border recently in response to the arrival of thousands of migrants in caravans from Central America. But the barbed wire is there no more, leading to the belief that thieves on the Mexico side removed it and sold it in nearby neighborhoods, giving residents protection from the border jumpers.

“We know about the theft of barbed wire because United States authorities have requested our help,” said Tijuana police chief Marco Antonio Sotomayor Amezcua. Houses near the border are now clearly protected with barbed wire of a similar size and what’s more, a type that is not sold in Mexican stores.

So. It’s necessary to protect one’s home, but not one’s country. Got it now. Not saying we understand it, just saying we got it now.

Shot over the bow. Canadian mining companies operating in Mexico should be on notice that the sector is going to face increased scrutiny on its environmental practices and treatment of Indigenous people, according to Mexico’s new ambassador to Canada.

“President Lopez Obrador has been very public about this, that we really want a strong, profitable mining sector – and Canadian mining companies are large investors in Mexico – but we expect them to operate in this country with exactly the same standards as they do in Canada,” Juan Jose Gomez said enforcement of Mexico’s existing laws will be increased under the government of new president Lopez Obrador.

The most pressing task when he gets to Ottawa will be the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, the text of which was completed nearly six months ago but has yet to be ratified by the partners.

No More Tourist Promotion. The private sector will assume responsibility for marketing Mexico as a tourism destination in light of the federal government’s decision to disband the Tourism Promotion Council (CPTM).

“It’s an effort that must be done together to promote Mexico as a country,” said José Manuel Campos. However, Campos didn’t reveal the size of the budget the new organization will have.

The government’s decision to disband the CPTM shortly after President AMLO took office last December has been widely criticized by members of the tourism and business sectors, including union boss Gustavo de Hoyos, who said it “makes you think that tourism has stopped being a priority.”

Well, yeah. AMLO would rather have his bullet train than tourists speeding into Mexico.

Dead turtles! More than 110 sea turtles have been found dead on beaches in Guerrero so far this month, causing widespread alarm. But a marine biologist says it’s a natural phenomenon that salpa, a zooplankton, sometimes carry high levels of toxins which, when they come in contact with the turtles, paralyzes and kills them.

In 2009 between 500 and 600 dead turtles were found and a similar number perished in the same way in 2016.

The biologist added that illegal fishing techniques, especially using nets in which turtles get trapped, have also been responsible for many deaths.

So far, dead sea turtles have been found in Coyuca de Benítez, San Jerónimo, Tecpan de Galeana, Acapulco and the Costa Chica region in Guerrero, all on the mainland.

Are You Outta Your Mind?? The government of Spain has “vigorously” rejected a request from Mexican President López Obrador that Spain apologizes for its conquest of Mexico that occurred about 500 years ago. López Obrador wants an apology for the indignities suffered by the native peoples during the period of the Spanish conquest.

2021 will be known as the Year of Historical Reconciliation when Mexico celebrates 200 years of independence and 500 years since the taking of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. It appears Spain will not be part of the festivities.

Que Pasa In Baja?

Germans interested in our wine. A group of Bavarian businessmen visited the wine valley last week in order to analyze the production potential of the area and the possibilities of collaborating with local wineries on different projects.

Specifically, local wineries were invited by the German company Nuremberg Messe to participate in upcoming beverage fairs from the Bavarian region that will include a section of international wines this year.

The executives visited several local wineries, including Roganto and Decantos, and also had a chance to enjoy the wine museum.

Baja safe for tourists. But very dangerous for criminals, at least that’s what our state tourism honcho, Oscar Escobedo, is preaching around Baja. He also stated that Baja has a lower crime rate among tourists than the state of California in the US. When asked about the spiking murder rates, he was quick to give the now official response “the majority of those cases are from folks in illicit activities.”

Off-road museum still no go. The controversial off-road museum in Ensenada still hasn’t been able to break ground, even though the state government says that the project is funded and the construction project done.

The state is saying that the project needs to be executed and managed by the local business groups, focusing on making the museum self-sustainable from ticket sales or trinkets sold at its gift shop.

The museum has been controversial because a big part of the community in Ensenada is against the project. The biggest issue is that the building would be just next to CEARTE, the local art museum, in a piece of land that was initially destined to build classrooms for art students.

Meter wars go on. Ensenada doesn’t make up its mind regarding the placement of parking meters around downtown; first the council approved the proposal to put up the meters, and now, after a contract has already been signed with a private company, the city is saying it wants to back out of the deal because of the enormous backlash they got from the citizens of Ensenada.

At this point, it’s cheaper to just install the parking meters and let the contract run its 18-year course than to pay the millions of pesos the company will demand if the council prohibits its operation; but of course, there is a political cost of approving such an unpopular move that no one wants to pay.

Baja Speaks English. That is the name of an initiative presented by congressman Carlos Torres, with the support of educative authorities and business groups, for concrete actions to take Baja all the way to the number one in the list of states with higher percentages of bilingual folks.

“Today, there is a language that can open doors to our kids and young boys and girls. A tool that allows us to even the opportunities between the privileged and the ones that have had less opportunities”, said Torres.

Baja California is the 57th region in the world with the most people that are able to speak a foreign language; Mexico as a country is 14th on the list.

Torres stated that a person who is fluent in English has the opportunity to earn 30% more than his non-bilingual counterparts.

The program will consist of a special set of benefits for companies that offer English class scholarships for its workers, and also by providing these benefits to English-language schools.

Hell breaks loose in San Felipe. After the Navy “accidentally” shot a Totoaba poacher in San Felipe, several fishermen protested violently at the Naval base and the protection agency office by burning cars, pangas, and buildings. Two more people were shot when protestors started throwing Molotov cocktails at the naval base buildings.

Fishing for Totoaba has been illegal in San Felipe for several years now because of its protected species status, and also because the area is declared as a protected space in an effort to save the Vaquita porpoise.

Better think twice about that beach bonfire. Rosarito officials from ZOFEMAT (the ones in charge of the federal zone at the beach), stated that they will be coordinating with the local police to crack down on beach fires; they are saying the activity is now prohibited because of the high level of contamination that the fires leave on the beach.

They also said that 110 new trash cans are being installed in local beaches so tourists can easily take their trash to the can and not leave it in the sand.

We’re going to be rich! A new initiative by state congressman Alejandro Arregui will allow citizens to collect damages when something bad happens because of the condition of the road.

If the law is passed, you will be able to sue the local government if you bust a tire, or your suspension when you fall in one of those enormous potholes that abound around here.

If that doesn’t seem far fetched, Arregui also proposed that the government has to take into consideration the amount of money “not earned” because of the time lost due to the accident, and says that it all has to be resolved in a maximum of 30 days by city or state officials.

If this initiative passes, our cities will go broke in 5 minutes, probably 2 for Ensenada!

What’s Going On In This Country?

Border emergency. You want to talk about a border emergency? Grab your passport and take a quick trip with me around the world. Look at the tensions between Israel and Syria. India and Pakistan. Iraq and Iran. Colombia and Venezuela. South Korea and North Korea. Now, closer to home, look at this relationship: United States-Mexico.

Thank goodness for good neighbors.

Can we have one of those? Groundbreaking took place Monday near Cancún for a US $312 million mall that will offer major brands. The Grand Outlet Riviera Maya will employ its “malltertainment” concept as nearly half the square footage will be allocated to entertainment attractions. The malltertainment concept consists of offering an all-round experience to the consumer. They even get an ice rink.

Construction started this week and is expected to take 18 months. There will also be a 7,500-seat auditorium, water features, an amusement park, a go-kart track described as the largest in the world and a hot air balloon ride. And three hotels.

Vanishing dolphins. Only 22 vaquita type of porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, a biology professor said yesterday, warning that the species could become extinct within months. The only place they can be found is the upper Sea of Cortez.

How do they know this? It’s a big sea, how can they be sure they’ve counted them all? Because 22 vaquitas were heard over a network of acoustic monitors. Ha! Maybe some vaquita were there and had nothing to say.

Vaquita huggers want more vigilance by the Navy but after angry fishermen who are accidently catching the little dolphins in their nets attacked a ship, Navy vessels have been too scaredy able to stop the illegal fishing.

Who doesn’t like Oxxo? Some residents of Oaxaca claim Oxxo is a threat to Mexico’s heritage. A movement calling itself anti-Oxxo, (less than imaginative but descriptive), erected blockades on several streets to prevent the mega-chain from constructing a new store in front of an elementary school. The group hopes to get all the locations in the city closed down. Members demand that the city government review every location’s construction permits and prohibit the franchise from opening more stores. Whoa, this is serious if they’re demanding permits. No way Oxxo, or any sophisticated chain spreads its tentacles legally.

At least five Oxxos are already located in the city center, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a very cute town.

Electricity is terrorism now? For the second time this year the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) cut electricity service to the Acapulco water and sewer system, a move described by the water utility as “terrorism.” 600,000 residents were without water, no word on the sewer system, shudder.

The utility had been making daily payments, trying to catch up on the $3.5 million they owe. The day before the “terrorism” against the water/sewer system, they cut off the lights.

Walmart uprising. More than 8,500 Walmart employees in 10 states are seeking a 20% pay increase and a fat bonus. The mainly female cashiers and other low-ranking employees earn on average between US $7 to $7.50 per day, (minimum wage is about $5 a day). They are not enrolled in medical insurance or retirement, their union claims. This is illegal.

In addition, they charge that Walmart doesn’t respect the right to an eight-hour work day, doesn’t pay overtime in accordance with the law, discriminates against pregnant women, and has dismissed workers unfairly. Workers at 121 Walmart stores as well as 56 Sam’s Club outlets and an unspecified number of Bodega Aurrera stores are prepared to walk off the job and in some states they are supported by governors who have acknowledged the “abuse” to which Walmart employees are subjected. Uh, well, why didn’t they stop it then?

The threatened strike follows widespread job actions in several other states where thousands of factory workers have won 20% pay increases and annual bonuses of as much as US $1,650. And they got this within days. However, those were manufacturers who had big contracts to deliver product and would suffer badly if they didn’t deliver. Maybe Walmart can go a few days or weeks without selling a pair of socks.

Que Pasa In Baja?

Hurraaay, we’re getting parking meters! Said no one ever, especially the citizens of Ensenada, who are pretty pissed about a new ordinance passed by city council that will allow a private company “Iberparking S.A. de C.V.” to install the meters in downtown Ensenada.

The city will get 30% of all income generated by the 3,500 meters that are going to be installed downtown, while the other 70% goes to Iberparking. The parking fee will be 10 pesos per hour (about 55 cents US).

Most business groups have already stated their displeasure at the new ordinance, saying that at only 30% of income it’s a bad deal for the city and a potential problem for their businesses.

The reality is that the city is strapped for cash, looking at every option to make an extra penny without having to spend one and this looks like a good option for them. Not only will they get income from the meters themselves but also from the parking tickets generated from people parked at expired meters.

State Congress representatives for the city of Ensenada have already stated their displeasure with the new ordinance and are planning to create a commission to analyze the deal and find some way to revoke it.

Money for infrastructure. Although Ensenada was publicly recognized last year as part of the Tijuana, Tecate, Rosarito and Ensenada metropolitan zone, it wasn’t until last week that it was declared part of it in the federal law.

This will allow the city to access a piece of the 180 million USD in funds available for metropolitan zones in Mexico this year. The fund has allowed cities like Tijuana and Mexicali to fund major infrastructure projects.

It’s now up to the state government to integrate a local metropolitan development council to submit projects to get the funds. First on the list, road repairs.

Wait a minute! Just a couple of days after the Citizens Council for Public Security stated that Tijuana was the most violent city in the world, based on its murder rate, our state governor Kiko Vega came to the rescue stating that “no way TJ is that!”.

Governor Vega said that Tijuana has seen steadily lower rates in vehicle theft, commerce theft, violent robberies, and kidnapping.

He minimized the murder rate stating, “Violence should be measured based on the total of crimes and not only by one”. He also said that 90% of the murders in the city are directly related to drug trafficking, so it doesn’t count. Well, maybe those weren’t his exact words, but that was the idea.

So that’s what it was. After a big backlash by the local chambers of commerce regarding the change in the start place of the Baja 500 off-road race from downtown Ensenada to the Estero Beach Hotel (owned by Ensenada’s mayor’s family), Score officials stated that it was all an honest mistake because they were wrongly informed that the local elections would be in July, and by the time they found out they were actually in June, exactly on the last day of the race, it was already too late to make any changes in the calendar and they had to change the venue to avoid any disruptions in the election process.

In order to keep the local businesses happy, and get the $30,000 USD that they get from the local tourism board, Score has agreed to have their Tech and contingency event in downtown Ensenada on May 30th.

Monkeys announced in the Valley. The Jersey Zoo and Kids Park in the Guadalupe Valley announced that its currently building a new attraction called the monkey island, and although they don’t yet have an opening date, they say the island will hold from 12 to 20 monkeys that visitors will be able to watch from a distance.

The zoo already hosts about 250 animals and it has become an interesting attraction for locals and tourists alike. The entrance fee is $50 pesos per person plus $30 pesos for parking, if you want to use the pools inside your entrance fee goes up to $130 pesos. The park is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.. Keep the beers in the car as they won’t allow any alcoholic beverages inside the park.

Lower taxes working for Baja. It looks like the lower taxes for the border zone is working, as the Metropolitan Center for Economic Information (CEMDI) stated that sales had increased for the month of January in a whopping 25% compared to the same month last year.

Although the tax break isn’t for everyone, most major retailers were quick to reduce their taxes, reducing final consumer prices by about 8%.

CEMDI also stated that Baja California lowered its inflation rate by -1.52%, making it the biggest decrease in inflation in the entire country.

New mayor guaranteed for Rosarito. Mirna Rincon, current Rosarito Mayor, lost the nomination for the PAN party to Maria Ana Medina Perez in the internal election of the party this past March 3rd.

With 312 votes in favor, Ana Medina is now the confirmed candidate for Rosarito Mayor in the coming elections.

Hang in there. Spring  Break has started for US schools and at least 2,500 students are expected to visit Rosarito during the school break. Yes, we know it’s not super nice to have all those people drunk in our streets, shouting and singing, but remember, we’ve all been there!

Dinora Soto, head of the tourism and conventions committee for the city of Rosarito, stated that “For me Spring Break is an indicator that foreigners still trust Baja California and especially Rosarito. This weekend we will receive lots of students and whoever accompanies them and we already have 4 major concerts scheduled.”

Dinora also stated that this is the third year that spring breakers have come back to Rosarito, after several years of not having any major groups here in town. “Some of these young people come to our city with their whole families, and this means to us that Rosarito is still an attractive destination, and that is important for us”, she concluded.

Cooking Like A Mexican

Beef tortillas?

The richness of Mexican food comes from the country’s many states that, but especially the little towns and settlements that make up each state. In Mexico, food is different from one state to the next, and even when a dish shares many ingredients with another, the way of preparing it makes it a completely different dish. Mexican food also owes its variety to the utensils used, and since Mexico is one of the oldest civilizations, most of the utensils are still made from stones, sticks, shells, bones, etc.

Metates are the great-grandparents of blenders and food processors. Much like the Molcajete, which is more widely known, metates are made from volcanic stone, called basalto. Before metates, pre-Hispanic Mexicans would grind ingredients directly on a huge slab of stone, eroding little dimples in the slab as time went by.

Each metate gives a different flavor to what is ground on it. The metlapilli is the part that is held by hand to grind on the metate. Molcajetes are typically used for salsas, metates for mole and tortilla masa; but anything can be ground on them, from seeds, vegetables and fruits to meats, clay, spices and natural pigments. Everything made in a metate is said to have the wisdom from the stone and the person who made it. The metate is a very special artifact to master, and not everyone who knows how to cook knows how to use one, but almost always someone who can work a metate is a wonderful cook.

Pacholas are one of the most ancient dishes in the state of Jalisco first appearing in a seventeenth-century cookbook, and even though Pacholas share all the ingredients with hamburger patties, meatloaf and meatballs, they are a whole ‘nother thing once you taste them. It is one of the dishes that has been left to die with time, because metates were abandoned for blenders and food processors, which were cheaper and easier to use. This dish was made from previously ground meat, grinding it finer in the metate and leaving it to dry before frying.

Jalisco is better known for its wet food: tortas ahogadas, sopes ahogados, and pretty much everything soaked in a bland salsa. Pacholas, however, are such a delicate but delicious dish, one would think of it as dry, but the double process that the meat goes through has a special effect on the proteins, making them one of the most valuable dishes of the region of Jalisco.

We’ll also make a salsa this time; the typical salsa made in Jalisco for all dishes  usually makes food wet, but in this case,  adds flavor and a nice presentation.

 

For the salsa:

 

1 pound of broiled tomatoes, pureed.

2 spoonful of white vinegar.

½ spoonful of oregano.

1 medium onion, finely chopped.

Salt and pepper to taste.

½ cup of water, as needed for a thin consistency. This will depend on the water from the tomatoes.

A pinch of sugar.

For the pacholas:

 

10 pepper corns.

2 cloves of garlic.

2 spoonful of cooked, refried beans.

½ spoonful of dried oregano.

½ pound of ground meat (a mixture of beef and pork is best but can be modified as preferred).

½ cucharadita de orégano seco.

Salt to taste.

1 cup of vegetable oil.

 

To make the salsa:

 

In a blender, place all the salsa ingredients and puree into a smooth, thin salsa.

Place in a dish to serve along the pacholas.

To make the Pacholas:

Grind pepper, garlic, beans and oregano into a paste.

In a large bowl, combine with the ground meat.

Add salt and mix again.

If you can find a molcajete, you can look up how to use it, but I’ll break it down for you below; if not, grind in the food processor until very fine, then make small balls and flatten between two parchment papers with a rolling pin.

Make round or oval thin patties, as thin as you can, about 5 millimeters.

Leave to air dry, covered with a paper towel, until not sticky to the touch anymore.

Fry in a pan with enough oil to cover.

Serve with the salsa, some guacamole and warm tortillas.

Tips and tricks:

To use the metate:

Cure. First, place a handful of uncooked rice and grind until powdered. This will fill whatever pores are left, and smooth out any unwanted bumps. Brush rice powder off and discard. There might be some stone powder in there, that will make your teeth screech unpleasantly.

Grind a tomato until all the skin is broken. This will help disinfect the metate, because of the tomato’s acid.

Rinse. DO NOT ADD SOAP.

Place the metate on the floor, and kneel in front of it. The higher part of the metate should be against your knees and the lower part should be farthest from you.

Place the ground meat on the higher side, not all of it has to be there at once, if its easier it can be little by little.

Place the grinding stone (metlapilli) in the middle of the metate, and start rocking it back and forth about one inch on each side.

If done correctly, the double ground meat should start collecting on the lower side of the metate; if not, it’s just a matter of practice.

Keep grinding until the edge of the Pachola starts sliding off the edge of the metate, that will be enough meat.

Slide the pachola off and place on a cooking sheet to dry.

Follow the rest of the steps to cook.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Biggest Train Heist Ever. Teachers in the state of Michoacán have been camping out on the train tracks, so far shutting down 250 trains. They’re demanding money for when they were striking against taking a competency exam. Now they’re threatening to escalate their protest by barricading banks, shopping centers and highway toll booths.

In dispute is about US $263 million, and it’s hard to see how the government is going to avoid paying this without incurring bloodshed, as these people are parking their pillows on the tracks.

The government is admitting the teachers are racking up a loss to the economy of $52 million a day because the blockade is causing a shortage of supplies such as steel and automotive parts, which is beginning to impact a variety of people. Mexican companies that export products are also racking up losses because they can’t get their goods to the ports.

The president of the Business Coordinating Council said its time for the federal government to clear the tracks, stating, “We cannot allow railway tracks to be subject to political extortion by minority groups.”

The president of the Mexican Employers Federation urged the government to end the blockades, although he emphasized that teachers’ human rights must be respected.

Yeah, as in don’t squish them on the tracks, but do get them to move along. This is a toughie.

Who’s the biggest thief of all? Real estate developers spend between 5% and 10% more on a project, just for the bribes they give to whoever regulates them, the NGO Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) reported Tuesday.

The most corrupt or with the highest perception of corruption are the mayors, then other authorities related to bribes would be Urban Development and Housing, and then the Water Authority.

According to the document, the “most common” forms of corruption are the fees of about $1,000, the request for an apartment from the work, the obligation to hire a specific contractor, or even to carry out works in public buildings.

Bribes also include personal gifts such as tickets for the Formula 1 race for officials, demolishing homes affected by the 2017 earthquake, or fixing parks.

Of the respondents to the poll, 94% said they had been victims of extortion or corruption, but only 36% reported it, in part because 42% do not trust the authorities. Gosh, why not?

Dog attack! Dogs attacked a woman as she walked to work over on the mainland.

Surveillance video showed a 34-year-old woman was killed by a pack of 11 dogs. The video indicates the attack lasted 11 minutes. Her body was discovered the following day. The Mayor ordered animal control agents to round up the dogs, but area residents attempted to prevent them from doing so by hiding them. However, the mayor said several had been captured.

Governor bails. After 5 years, a former governor of Sonora was let out of jail on $2 million bail on charges that his administration swiped $1.6 billion while he was governor. Poof! Gone. Well, maybe under his mattress? Has anybody looked?

Goodbye Plastics. This coming August may be the soonest the new law against plastic bags and plastic straws will go into effect. The law was approved last July, but these things, (as all things in Mexico), take time.

We recently used a paper straw and that fell apart after sucking up most of one drink. The straw felt weird, too. But maybe we’re just a strong sucker with sensitive lips

The biggest change will be not having to deal with those cheesy Wal-Mart bags that are so small and so skinny they can only take a few items. As you’re pushing your cart out the store, you look down and see a sea of thin opaque plastic waving and clattering in the breeze.

BYOB, (bring your own bag), has been the deal in some US states for a little while now, and it’s doable with surprisingly little effort. Just always carry a cloth bag in the trunk of your car. Even this dull bulb got used to it in about a month.

And if you forget to BYOB? Hopefully they will sell you their cheesy ones. But you will look pretty irresponsible pushing out of the store with that sea of plastic bobbing around in your cart.

Striking works. Spurred on by workers’ victories in Tamaulipas, employees of three more companies also started job action recently.

Now, 150 employees at a dairy bottling plant walked off the job as did 170 workers at a water purification company.

The non-unionized employees of the bottler said their salaries only increased by 1% at the start of this year when the minimum wage was doubled in the northern border region. They too want a 20% increase and a $1600 US bonus.

Some striking workers, who are calling for the same raise and bonus, denounced what they called exploitation by their employer and condemned the indifference of the union to their cause.

They said they expected to receive an annual bonus of US $525 last year but got just $65.

The strike action by employees of those two companies followed a work stoppage Thursday by workers at Arca Continental, the second largest Coca-Cola bottler in Latin America. The workers are also demanding a 20% pay raise and $1600 bonus.

“The plant and the distribution of products stopped,” said of the Mexican Employers Federation,

The president of the National Council of the Maquiladora Industry (Index Nacional), said earlier this week that strike action in Matamoros will result in 15 manufacturers leaving the city.

Que Pasa In Baja?

Baja, open for spring breakers. Our state tourism honcho, Oscar Escobedo, is promoting Baja as a destination for spring breakers this coming season. Escobedo has already appeared in the Good Morning San Diego TV show and on KGTV news promoting us.

Baja has been slowly recovering as a spring break destination in the last couple of years, after the security crisis about 11 years ago, completely wiped us off the destinations list.

“Security is a priority subject for us, that’s why, while working with authorities on both sides of the border, we can assure our visitors that trust and tranquility have prospered in our territory that, although divided by a border, operates as a sole region”, stated Escobedo.

The state official went on to comment that 84% of the foreign visitors in our state come from California, generating an increase of tourism during 2018 without any precedent, stating that over 27.5 million tourists visited us during last year, leaving an economic benefit for the region of more than 6 billion USD.

Ensenada Carnival in trouble. Last week, the Ensenada chamber of commerce gave a press conference, in which they stated that they were starting a formal legal and lobbying battle against the carnival, unless  they change the location from the boulevard.

Business owners have long complained when the carnival is on the boulevard, because they lose almost all their business during the carnival days, as streets are closed for circulation. Also, traffic gets crazy since the boulevard is one of the main streets to get in and out of Ensenada.

Jorge Menchaca, head of the local chamber of commerce, and Jorge Cortes, president of the business council, assured that the carnival affects about 200 local businesses greatly when it’s done on the boulevard.

They are proposing to change the location to Playa Hermosa, where it has been done a couple times before and affects a lot less businesses, although it has gotten a lot less people when it is done in this location.

The city of Ensenada is between a rock and a hard place regarding this, as they have already received the 1 million pesos payment from the event organizers, who have already promoted the carnival heavily in most of the media in this location. If the city decides to change the location at this point, it will surely piss off organizers, who in turn could sue the city for breach of contract.

Two new hotels open in Ensenada. City Express announced that it has started operating its two, brand new  hotels in Ensenada, adding 261 rooms to the local room inventory.

“With the opening of these two properties, we will contribute to the development of the tourism industry in Ensenada, with hotel infrastructure. At the same time, we are offering travelers another lodging option, backed up by a recognized national hotel chain,” said Monica Narro, head of public relations for the hotel chain.

The company will offer two different types of hotels: City Express Plus, located in the Viento property in El Sauzal, with 134 higher-end, ocean view rooms, and their City Express property on Boulevard Costero, offering more affordable hotel rooms.

City Express offers a total of 1,342 hotel rooms in Baja in it’s 11 locations, distributed in Mexicali, Tijuana, Rosarito and now Ensenada.

Snow birds flock to Algodones. Tourism officials from Mexicali said that more than 281 thousand snow birds visited the city of Algodones in Mexicali, nicknamed “molar city” because it has more dental offices per capita than any other city in the world, during 2018 generating an economic benefit for the area of 40 million dollars.

Snowbirds are people from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana in the US, and British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, that fly over to warmer climates.

In this case most of these are warming up in the sea of Cortez, and they take advantage of the lower dental service prices in Algodones, which are normally 50% to 70% less than in their home countries.

No desalination plant for Rosarito. It looks like the new desalination plant that was going to be created in Rosarito by Consolidated Water is not going to be built after all.

Luis Moreno, state congressman from the “Transformemos” party, said that the cancellation of the plant is imminent since the state government was not able to give the assurances needed for the company.

The time limit for the state government to offer these assurances, which were an increased water price from the water agency, along with some tax breaks and funds to pay for the water, was December 31st last year.

State congress did not approve the changes needed, although the state government was supporting the controversial project that was also opposed by local environmental groups and many citizens.

Consolidated Water is still hoping that the state government rescues the project, which seems far-fetched, considering the majority of the state congress is now held by parties opposing the plant.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Shooting. Despite campaigns and laws against shooting up, New Year’s revelers continue the tradition of firing guns at the stroke of midnight. And if you don’t have a gun, police in Sinaloa will lend you one, which proved fatal for a seven-year-old girl in Oaxaca after she was struck by a stray New Year’s bullet. The little girl and her family were seated outdoors and preparing to enjoy a New Year’s Eve dinner when she appeared to faint.

At about the same time that Vivian was hit, two local police officers loaned an automatic rifle to a New Year’s reveler, so he could join the fun and fire shots into the air. The two are under investigation after a video of the incident surfaced. After the video appeared, they were relieved of their weapons and put under investigation. Don’t expect more than a slap on the wrist.

General Motors has retaken the title of No. 1 automaker in Mexico after an eight-year hiatus inflicted by Nissan.

The United States manufacturer made more than 801,000 light vehicles in Mexico by the end of November last year, a 9% increase over the previous year. It was also the top auto exporter from Mexico, with over 775,000 of its new vehicles shipped out of the country. Japanese automaker Nissan, which was Mexico’s largest between 2011 and 2017, made 717,100 vehicles in the first 11 months of 2018, a 9% decline from the previous year.

GM on a roll. The numbers are a reflection of GM’s renewed manufacturing focus in Mexico and the difficulties faced by Nissan due to a contraction of the Mexican auto market. By increasing its production capacity in Mexico in the past two years, GM thumbed its nose at President Donald Trump. To add to Trump’s consternation, GM announced it plans to manufacture new models in Mexico, including the Chevrolet Equinox SUV, the GMC Terrain and the Chevrolet Blazer.

The new trade agreement late last year between Mexico, the United States and Canada will bring changes to the North American auto sector and push up manufacturing costs in Mexico, but GM and other U.S. manufacturers are well prepared. Among the changes agreed to in the new pact, known as USMCA, are an increase to regional content levels to 75% from 62.5% in order for a car to be given tariff-free status, and a requirement for 40% of content to come from high-wage areas where workers earn at least US $16 per hour.

The trade agreement, which may or may not pass Congress, will replace the 25-year-old NAFTA at the start of 2020. Or not. That $16 wage is about as likely to happen as Mexico paying for the wall, but by that time, if Trump is still president, he won’t be paying attention to the art in this deal.

Gas grief. The same night President López Obrador reported the pipeline that runs from Tuxpan to Azcapotzalco was fixed, it was breached again. “It was working and at 11 o’clock at night it was broken again, and it is being repaired again; I am informed that in an hour the supply will be re-established. As I have said, let’s see who gets tired of this bullshit first.” OK, so he didn’t say bullshit. If you want a word-for-word quote, you can learn Spanish and listen to him yourself. He gives press conference every morning at 7 am, which is carried live on Youtube.

This week, another pipeline was vandalized for three consecutive days. Security will be reinforced along the main pipelines of Pemex, and President AMLO announced new special bases chock full of soldiers ready to charge out and arrest the fuel thieves. Ja! Even a cat knows better than to expect to see that. There will also be aerial surveillance, he said. “Since yesterday and today begins surveillance in air force helicopters in all pipelines and special bases are being created every certain distance.” Forever? 9,000 extra soldiers and guarding the pipelines. For how long? The thieves will just lay low until AMLO gives up on this silly game.

More gas grief. The federal government’s fuel theft strategy has not only stranded motorists unable to get gasoline, but ships are stuck as well: at least 60 oil tankers are stranded in Mexico’s principal ports, unable to unload their fuel because Mexico is afraid to send the fuel they already have through the pipes. There are not enough tanker trucks to distribute it.

Que Pasa In Baja?

More taxis for Ensenada. A total of 224 permits for new taxis were given out by Mayor Novelo to work the city. The mayor congratulated the new taxi drivers who acquired cars to use as taxis, which he said will “benefit taxi users and the families of the drivers, who will now have their own patrimony.” Really? With new and efficient technologies like Uber emerging and growing every day, do we really need more plain old taxis? We all know all those permits get sold in a week and end up in the hands of a couple of monopolies around town; unfortunately, it’s the same thing all over Mexico.

Trash problem growing. Ensenada alderman Jorge Camargo is pushing the local government, for the second time in five months, to hire private trucks to help the city with the problem.

Camargo is saying that the city deficit in trash collection is around 150 tons daily. Yes, you read that correctly, that’s 150 tons that don’t get picked up every day.

The trash problem is so big in Ensenada that it has forced people to recycle, in an effort to not fill up their trash cans with plastic and cardboard. Many millions have been spent in educational programs to get people to recycle, but it never worked. Who would have known that leaving people with their trash for over a month would work even better!

Toll road corruption. The federal government has opened a formal investigation against CAPUFE Baja California, the office in charge of the toll roads here in Baja. The feds are saying that our state office has been looking the other way when contractors hired to work on the road overcharge millions.

To add insult to injury, some of these contracts have not been finished more than a year after their due date, and some of the ones that were finished were not done to the original specs.

The feds say the contractors, along with corrupt officials, stole about $11 million USD from the government on these projects, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! And just because this is Mexico, the guy in charge of all these contracts is still heading his office, although authorities say “he is being thoroughly investigated.”

Local movie in theaters now. The new horror movie “Belzebuth” just got to theaters last week. The movie was completely filmed here in Baja (Mexicali to be exact), and was co-produced by our very own University of Baja California, or UABC. The movie starts Tobin Bell, better known for the “Saw” movies, and Julian Cosio, a Mexican actor widely known here. The movie is in English, so you shouldn’t have a problem understanding it. Hopefully, it will still be here when this paper hits the racks.

TJ Migrant caravan down to 700. The head count last week in the Tijuana shelter that was set up for Central American migrants that came here was down to 700 people from 6,000 that had arrived in Tijuana back in November.

The Mexican government gave humanitarian work visas to 2,900, and those are thought to be already working here in Baja, while another 2,600 are said to have been arrested by the border patrol in San Diego. Others have decided to go back to their home countries.

More caravan havoc. Just when we thought that was over, another caravan of 2,500+ central American immigrants has just crossed over to Mexico in Chiapas. From those, just under 1,000 crossed the border legally, and the other ones just barged right in when no one was looking; it was said on the news that the border was open; no federal police were there to guard it, as was previously claimed.

Members of this new caravan have already stated that they are on their way to Tijuana, so expect more problems in the near future, and probably border shutdowns from Trump when they get here.

Don’t worry, it’s just another drug-related murder. Our state governor, Kiko Vega, stated that up to 85% of Baja’s 2,570 murder count during 2018 was drug related. Baja ended the year with the record for biggest increase in murders from 2017, with an increase of about 500 murders from last year.

Vega said that Baja has seen bigger quantities of drugs arriving to our state in the last year, which has caused an increase in violence from that illegal activity.

“We need to reform the Federal Penal Code so that people that carry firearms without permit go to jail”, he said.

Meanwhile tourism is growing. During 2018 we received more than 26 million tourists in our state, which brought about $1.6 billion USD to our state. 58% of our tourists were from other countries, most of them from the US, and the other 42% were Mexican nationals.

Tourism has been recovering its importance in Baja, and it now represents 8% of our GDP.

Zona Libre reminder. I have received a couple of complaints  from people who are thinking that they’re being robbed because they are gringos when they see their sales receipt showing they are being charged 16% sales tax (or IVA). People, go back and read my article from last edition; not all businesses qualify for the Free Zone tax break, thus making them ineligible to charge 8% tax.  The Gringo Gazette North (that’s us!) is one of those companies that doesn’t qualify, meaning that we still have to charge 16% IVA tax. A lot of small companies are in the same situation; please keep that in mind when you receive your ticket.

On the other hand, most of the big stores like Costco, Walmart, Calimax, Soriana and Florido all qualify for the tax break and are already charging 8% instead of 16%. Enjoy the discount!

Cooking Like a Mexican

BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA

Buñuelos

December in Mexico is about eating, sharing and caring. One of the most important things about Mexican food is dessert, and even though I don’t write much about it, I think it’s a good opportunity now, calorie counting being tossed to the winds and all.

Buñuelos is a recipe as old as colonized Mexico. One of the oldest known recipe books belongs to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a poet, dramatist, scholar and nun who was born around 1651. Her mother was a creole, and her father Spanish, but they did not have a large income. From when she was a little girl, she was hungry for knowledge, mostly self-taught from burying her nose in whatever book she could find. She also taught herself to read when she was three years old, or so the story goes. This was a time when girls were not allowed to go to school. Her mother knew she was bright, so she sent Inés to Mexico City to live with relatives. She was called to be a lady-in-waiting in the court of the viceroy’s wife.

A few years later, she was at the point where she either married or became a nun. So, she became the latter. We don’t know what was going on on the boyfriend front, but apparently not much. She joined the barefoot carmelitas but only stayed there four months, because she became sick. After recovering, her stark room at her new convent became the meeting point for intellectuals and poets, and Luisa Manrique, another viceroy’s wife (who, rumor has it, had a huge girl crush on María Inés). In her room, she also performed scientific experiments and had an amazing collection of books.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, woman with too many names was a poet, a dramatist, a scholar and a nun who invented  buñuelos, which got her on the 200 peso note. But didn’t get her a husband, which oversight got her into a convent.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, woman with too many names was a poet, a dramatist, a scholar and a nun who invented buñuelos, which got her on the 200 peso note. But didn’t get her a husband, which oversight got her into a convent.

Sor Juana was well known for many things, most of those controversial. Most men who were in the same niche as her would publish “pseudonymous” letters trying to convince her to stick to her religious duty rather than using her brain. She wrote mostly poetry, about love, erotism, (She’s a nun, what does she know? Possibly her reason for going into the convent should be looked into.) She also wrote about morals and psychology. (One of her most important poems is written in tiny mice type on the 200 peso note, along with her portrait, which we’re hoping was taken on an unusually bad day).

But today we’re talking about this iconic woman because along with her other talents, she was a great cook. Her recipes were perfectly aligned with poetry, and delicious. Her culinary expertise, however, started at her family’s home back when she was a little girl, before all the nunsense. (haha, see what I did here? Nun-nonsense? I’m hilarious!)

The cooks at the hacienda kitchen were indigenous women from Oaxaca, so she grew up with both Spanish and indigenous cuisine.

Buñuelos de rodilla are a special buñuelo, which grandmothers used to shape with their bare knees, literally. In the olden days, buñuelos were actually called “puñuelos” because they were kneaded with the fists, called puños. The heritage form this dish comes from Iberian Christians, aka Spaniards, who had several recipes, including cheese, rice, pulque and milk.

Buñuelos were invented by the working class of the southern Spanish peninsula looking for a cheap, sweet, warm treat they could have in the winter when the economy wasn’t exactly thriving.

Every state has its own buñuelo recipe, ranging from bright orange colors, sugar coated or syrup, fried in lard or oil, served in corn husks or in paper. (Remember what I keep telling you: Mexican cooking is very regional.) Buñuelos are a sweet treat that is usually found around the church square of cities and towns, sold by street vendors at special times like Christmas, revolution day, independence day, day of the dead, etc.

In Oaxaca, buñuelos are eaten on a plate that will be thrown and shattered on the floor later, once it breaks in a million pieces, a wish will be granted for the next year. It’s not every state that observes that tradition.

Big batches are the usual when making buñuelos, because even though they are very cheap, it is very much worthier to make a lot of them at one time, because it’s not like people are going to eat just one, trust me.

To compliment this recipe, I’ll give you a short, sweet drink too, which is atole de masa, a thick hot drink that is not too sweet to balance out the flavors. Atole and buñuelos go together like mash and gravy. This is a completely Mexican drink, which was made ceremoniously by the Aztecs, and some rural communities still drink it in their every day lives. Sometimes, a cup of atole is all they have throughout the day, until they come home to have a hearty meal. The main ingredient is masa, the dough that is the base for tortillas.

For the Buñuelos:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

2 cups of sunflower oil

4 oz of water

½ stick of butter

½ teaspoon of star anise

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 pinch of salt

1 pinch of cinnamon

How to:

Shift flour and sugar together, along with the salt and cinnamon.

Heat up some water in a pot, and add the star asnise. This liquid will be what gives buñuelos their signature taste and fragrance.

Add the butter to the dry ingredients, preferably at room temperature and start mixing. Using your hands will be faster and easier. Wash them first.

Once the butter and flour are mixed together, start adding tablespoons of the anise water, slowly, until a firm and homogeneous dough is achieved. The perfect consistency is when the dough is not sticky anymore, and is stretchy.

Leave the dough to rest for ten minutes, sprinkle with a lot of flour to prevent a crust from forming.

Once the ten minutes have passed, form little balls about the size of a lime, to make the buñuelos. (I’d recommend to slather some oil on your hands)

With the help of a rolling pin, form the buñuelos (You can try and shape them with your knees, but I don’t think you’ll make it.

Once you have formed the buñuelos, and are about as thin as a folded paper, you can start frying them.

Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Atole de masa

Ingredients:

½ cup of masa, can be store bought or made from maseca.

4 ½ of warm water or milk

1 stick of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

2 small cones of piloncillo or 1 cup of sugar (it’s not meant to be sweet, but you can add more to your taste)

How to:

Dissolve the masa in a cup of milk or water, depends on what you’re using.

Simmer the rest of the water or milk in a deep pot, and slowly add the dissolved masa.

Add the cinnamon, vanilla, sugar or piloncillo and bring to a gentle boil.

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