Aug 252006

The NY times has put up a pretty good travel article about Tijuana. As expected, it focuses mostly on the newer art spots and trendy eateries. But it also goes a little further to talk about the city as a whole, the good and the bad. I’d bet the focus will continue to stoke the fires of change.

It’s Hot. It’s Hip. It’s Tijuana?

This is a Tijuana you don’t know. Most Mexicans, who don’t cut Tijuana much slack — dismissing it as a provincial backwater, a border badlands — don’t know it either. But Tijuana is Mexico’s fastest-growing city (a population of 750,000 in 1990, 1.2 million in 2000 and projected to be 2.2 million by 2010). And it is changing. Cosmopolitan by default because of its proximity to the United States — 60 million people cross the border there each year — Tijuana is developing a new identity that is bringing it out of the shadows of its own reputation. Its fabled lawlessness has become a kind of freedom and license for social mobility and entrepreneurship that has attracted artists and musicians, chefs and restaurateurs, and professionals from Mexico and elsewhere.

Bonus link – Ask San Diego Blog: Tijuana 101

Jul 262006

Unsatisfied with a dearth of town & area maps for the Bahia de los Angeles, I’ve made my own. Like lazy water, I took the path of least resistance and did it all in Google Earth. Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes in the file, and I will correct them. I’ve exported the info and published it here:

Google Earth kmz map of Bahia de los Angeles, Baja Mexico
or Google Earth KML map of Bahia de los Angeles, Baja Mexico

It seems to kill a lot of birds with one stone, but I have a nagging concern. I don’t like tying information to one particular software system. Graphics or text can be easily read and parsed by all kinds of software and users. A Google Earth kmz file… Not so much. This will be my test. Is this information useful to anyone? Can anyone even find it?

Update: Well it seems that KMZ isn’t the best way to distribute, so I’ve unzipped the file to KML. That way it is easy to import into a lot of applications. Google has updated Google Maps to display KML files, so now you don’t even need Google Earth: Google Map of Bahia de los Angeles, Baja Mexico

You can also read about our trip here: Chris & Anna’s Bahia de los Angeles trip

Nov 032005

(All photos for this entry are posted here)

(The following is information I’ve picked up from various sources, so feel free to set me straight)

Dia de los Muertos is one of the more famous and widely practiced Mexican holidays. This ritual remembrance and celebration of the dead is said to be 3,000 years old, but was moved and mixed with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day by the Spanish to give it a church link. As I understand it, November first is All Saints’ Day, which is to remember children that have died. The second is All Saints’ Day, and is for everyone else. The celebration of the holiday tends of be quite different depending on the region. In Northern Mexico and the US, it tends to be a more private, with altars of loved ones in your home.

Anna and I visited the Sherman Heights Community Center on the first of the month to check out some of the traditional altars that were on display to the public. It was my first time in the center (I have only ever seen it from the road) and I was quite impressed with the building. It seems like a really great resource for the neighborhood. The altars were quite varied. Some were intimate, others very orate. Most focused on family members (for four years after death). But a few focused on other issues like lead in children’s candy, or the murdered women and girls of Ciudad Juarez. All of the altars had ofrendas of some sort – favorite foods or drinks, flowers, sugar skulls, photos, etc. We talked to the people at the center and bought some pan de muerto. I wish we could have stayed a bit longer, they were going to have some traditional dancers bless the altars.

We also checked out Chicano Park, as I had heard they were going to have similar events. But the park was fairly empty. Too early, or too late?

Oct 072005

The grand North Park Theatre has been restored, and is opening as the Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre. It is now the home of Lyric Opera San Diego.

There are only two public restrooms in downtown San Diego. This is a problem. I found it interesting that a self cleaning restroom can cost 65k per year to run. Why not just hire a guy to clean a couple of non-automated restrooms?

We score number two, then number one in some bubble tests by Business Week – What’s Your House Worth Now?

One of the best indicators of potential problems is the National Association of Home Builders-Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. This measures the percentage of homes sold in a given area that are affordable to middle-income families, defined as those with incomes at the midpoint of all families’ incomes. The index takes into account property taxes and current interest rates, and assumes that families can afford to spend 28% of their monthly gross income on housing. Certainly, many people in hot markets stretch to spend more than that on housing, but there comes a point where prices are simply too high. By this measure, Los Angeles ranked dead last in the final quarter of 2004, with only 5.2% of area houses affordable by a median-income area family. San Diego was barely better with 5.3% affordable. Other areas that look bad include New York (10.8% affordable), San Francisco (11.6%), and Las Vegas (36.2%). By contrast, middle-income folks could afford 90% of the homes in Buffalo.

By itself, the Housing Opportunity Index doesn’t prove that a bubble has formed or is about to pop. The case for an overinflated market gets stronger if you can rent a nice house for far less than the monthly carrying cost of buying it, including mortgage and maintenance. High price-to-rent ratios mean that people are paying a premium to own rather than rent, presumably because they expect their homes to appreciate and earn capital gains. The bigger the premium, the more unrealistic their expectations are likely to be.

San Diego is the most bubble-icious big city by this measure. According to Torto Wheaton Research of Boston, it cost only 40% as much to rent as to own in San Diego last year. The ratio was 45% in San Francisco, 54% in Las Vegas, 55% in Los Angeles, 59% in Washington, and 63% in Miami. In these cities, “It’s much better to be a renter than a buyer unless your horizon is longer than five years,” says Gleb L. Nechayev, a senior economist at Torto Wheaton.

It seems this is starting to head south. The corridor of broken dreams and giant entryways is in a condo building and buying frenzy – Baja’s building boom. People seem to be regaining confidence for buying homes on leased land in Baja. The Baja market was hit hard in ’99 after the court-ordered evictions of more than 200 US citizens at Punta Banda. With this much of a surge, buyers are advised to do their homework – sellers don’t have to disclose anything. How much of this is legitimate vs. speculative?

Voice of San Diego looks at TJ police corruption: How Much Has Tijuana Done to Clean Up Its Corrupt Police Force? They follow the story of a US citizen that was locked up for 3 days before the police took $400 from his bank account and let him go. They mention the Sindicatura in Baja as the best place to report corruption. Interestingly, I’ve always been told to tape the following information on the back of your drivers license when traveling in Baja:

Sindicatura del Gobierno Municipal Tijuana (665) 688-2810, 973-7770, 973-7759
Ensenada (646) 617,1561, 176-2222
Mexicali (686) 558-1600 x1661

The thought is that if you are stopped by a policeman, you will have a better shot at getting legitimate treatment because they know you are aware of the Sindicatura. Is it worth doing? Not a clue. I;ve never had a problem. The green angels and other patrols are supposed to be much better these days.

While I’m on the topic of Baja, I really need to head to the Sea of Cortez to see the flying mobulas (related to rays). Check out this story and photos of flying mobulas.

May 032005

(Photos from this entry can be found here: Chicano Park 35 years, Tijuana Bullfight.)

First things first. Two weeks ago Anna and I went to the shindig for 35 years of Chicano Park. It was as we expected; lowriders, music, and street fair vendors. In other words, a good time.

While there we ran into some guys we recognized from other events. They make and sell t-shirts of their art and photos, including those from the bullfights in TJ. We started talking and they told us about the season opener on May 1st that featured ‘El Juli’. Supposedly one of the best matadors in the world. Their enthusiasm planted a seed that eventually sprouted with us hopping on the trolley for TJ on Sunday.

It was fairly easy to get there – we walked across and grabbed a cab to the bull ring. TJ has two rings, one downtown, and another right by the border and the sea. La Playa – you can see a picture of it here (love this photo), courtesy of the California Coastal Records Project. Coming back from the fight was a bit tougher. You could take the MexiCoach for 5 bucks, or try for a cab. The cabs were scarce (police were leaning on them for some reason) but we managed to split a cab with a Portuguese couple who told us about some interesting american-portuguese bull fights.

This was my first time to a bull fight. Though I had read up on it, it was still nice to have some guys next to us that could explain the little bits. The rough idea is that there is 3 matadors with 2 helpers each and 6 bulls. The bull comes out, and 3 guys dance with it for a little bit. Then the picadores (guys on blinded, padded horses with spears) come out and stab the bull in the neck to get it to drop its head. After that, one guy uses six brightly colored spears to weaken the neck some more. And finally the matador comes out with a red cape and sword. They tire the bull, then pull some risky moves before finishing the bull with a curved sword.

Nothing goes exactly to plan, and this day was no different. The bull took one of the picadores down, but everything seemed to be ok once they got the horse back up. The first fighter lost his cape a couple times (bad thing to loose your composure), but did a clean kill. The second fighter was El Juli. Again one of the picadores went down. He seemed to be slacking, and did not make a clean kill. The crowd ripped him a new one. The third fighter was a gutsy kid, he did some moves and got to run a victory lap.

With the next round of bulls, the first fighter did better but didn’t have a clean kill. El Juli had something to prove, so he did some amazing moves and had a clean kill. The crowd loved it and he got two ears and a victory lap. The 3rd guy came out for the last bull. The bull was too unpredictable and the crowd threw seat cushions to mark their disapproval. The judge ordered a new bull for him. After that he pulled some daring stunts and had the crowd going, unfortunately he did not make a clean stab with the sword. After the match everyone threw seat cushions. Hah.

It was an interesting experience, but I doubt I’m going to be buying season tickets. If I ever want to throw seat cushions, I know where to go. The part that was the strangest to me was the picadores – I didn’t expect to see the bulls take them & the horse down 3 times. I think the horses have the worst job ever: “Hey horse, we are going to blindfold you, then stab a bull so it rams you a bunch. Sound good?”

Oct 202004

From BBC: Narco Corridos. An interesting article on the music aspect of the smuggler/drug/gang culture of Mexico and the US.

It has been a bit of a culture shock down here for me in this aspect. You see guys drive by in pimped out cars with big stereos blasting music. But the music is not rap or metal, as a gringo like me would expect. To the northern ear, it sounds like a mix between speed folk and polka. Most is a bit too amped for me, but I like Virtuoso Mariachi – a sort of classical approach to mariachi music.