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The Wine Country Under Siege, Part 1

There is a quiet war being waged in the Valle de Guadalupe. It has been going on for years and now can easily be seen in the rapid development scraping the land clean making way for new projects. At first it appeared to be a positive thing for the people in the small pueblos and the expansion of new wineries was exciting. Most casual visitors would not have taken notice of the more serious concerns taking place in this lush valley in Baja California. Fernando Pérez Castro, owner of Lomita winery agreed to speak for the community activist group called, Por Un Valle de Verdada, “The Fight for a Real Valley.” The people who call the Valle de Guadalupe home as well as the business men and women and the wine makers want the growth to happen in a sustainable way. This is not the case as development surges to new heights. The Valle de Guadalupe is at a cross roads and the decisions made now are the most critical for its future.

Fernando’s father brought his family to the valley sixteen years ago. Fernando joined the ongoing concerns of the other activists eight years ago. He is passionate about sustainably and the future directions of the wine culture. There are two choices to make and it will take a powerful group effort to make the correct choice between a world class wine region and tourism.  The trend that is now obvious is the new investments have no respect for the three most important ingredients for a Wine producing region: Agriculture, water and landscape. He stressed, “It is import to recognize Valle de Guadalupe as a sanctuary because the weather conditions we have here and the environment we have here makes a very unique wine. We are not martyrs or tree huggers. We need to fight, because we know the direction development is taking”

Fernando states, “There are a lot of things at risk, if we don’t take care of how things are developed. For the last 25 years, the people of this region have been telling the government they have not been implementing the laws that would protect the land. There has been a level of corruption taking place…that have permitted 2500 acres of land to be sold in irregular ways.”  He suggested the newest of investors are buying land without formal papers, exploiting the land not for wine production. He is clear that greed and not implementing the law are destroying the possibility of a true wine culture. “We do not need discos, Mixology, or massive events which strain the resources. It is clearly a lack of vision. If people want those things they can go to Ensenada, Rosarito, or TJ where they are already established. When people want world class wine, hotels and restaurants they will come here.”

He continues, “We have seen this story before, and we are witnessing the Valle de Guadalupe turning into something that will not sustain growth. The laws are not being implemented to protect this from happening. When you let investors exploit the tourism, not respecting the wine culture, it is enviable things will begin to happen.  Agriculture, water, community and landscape have to be protected and when you don’t a different kind of business will take advantage of the tourism that the wine country already has. They will offer different experiences. So then the true nature of the wine region starts to downgrade. And when you downgrade a destination, you attract a certain type of people. Many people are looking for different experiences and looking for entertainment. Drugs are a natural progression of this downturn. What I am trying to say is that the Guadalupe wine country has all the opportunities to be upgraded in different ways.” An important note is that 75% of all Mexican wine is produced in the Valle de Guadalupe and careful growth and quality tourism is essential for future production. 

Fernando continues, “There are not enough infrastructures to maintain the summer visitors and massive event. The people who live in the 3 small Pueblos suffer the most. These people and their communities have no sewage system and frequently do not have water.” He further explained, that it is obvious when thousands of people come for a weekend visit, they do not understand the impact they are making. One down turn which Fernando attributes to this issue are the deplorable road conditions with axel breaking potholes. He admitted that the roads were never meant to endure thousands of cars during hot summer days. Even the simple act of flushing a toilet becomes a monumental problem as 90% of the hotels are without sewage systems. It takes water to flush and shower; water which the grapes need.  Fernando stressed, “It is becoming a social problem, a problem of sustainability, and also becoming a security problem. In the past we never heard of these kinds of problems.”

A decade ago the history of the valley claimed that only one violent death had ever happened, and the community was proud to say so. Today’s statistics are dreadful as Fernando reports, “Last year the monthly rate of violent death was one per month; now it is six per month. We need guards on our wineries because if we don’t, it threatens both the wineries and the visitors with theft and vandalism.  We want sustainable tourism, and we know how to build this in a thoughtful way through appropriate landscaping with the native plants and water conservation.”  Fernando sites that it is important for people to know if they are buying land in the conservation area it is illegal. These sales have been overlooked by the Ensenada Municipal for many years allowing for the current downturn in quality projects. Any investment now in the valley is at risk. Fernando worries, “I’m not sure I will have a winery to pass on to my children.  It is very very uncertain that we can continue to make wine.” He further stresses, “We are not against tourism, development, nor do we hate real estate. The problem is that people don’t realize how fragile this region is.  We have to protect the balance because our area is incredibly suitable for making high quality wines.”

Water is the most important factor for the future of The Guadalupe Valley region. A huge project that would be both time consuming and costly has been consider for years. This would be piping Tijuana recycled water to the valley. As one can imagine, there are many issue involved and one being the quality of the water that would be received. However, recently a delegation from Baja met with Napa Valley winemakers and business people to learn that they water exclusively now with recycled water.  Any solution about the water necessary to sustain the production of wine will take time and money, Fernando knows “there is no short term solution.” He sites that in 2018 a government group studied the impact of tourism on the aquifers of the region. This diagnostic survey came back with an alarming finding. If growth continues drawing water only form the aquifers, they will be dry by 2030. That is only 8 years away and the decisions now are critical for any further developments.  The “Hope” for rain has past its usefulness. It will take a clear vision to create and maintain a sustainable balance between wine production and tourism.

 In Part 2 there is positive action on the horizon with a new governor taking office in two months who understands the importance of the Guadalupe Valley as a world class wine producing region. The question is will it be swift enough to avoid the inevitable outcome?

UPDATE: Part 2 of this article can be found here…

Editor’s note: Martina is a freelance writer, journalist and author of two books. Her newest book, Dust in My Sandals, Tales from a Baja Traveler, is now on Amazon. See our ad for what people are saying.

Ensenada Police Get COVID-19 Vaccine After Thousands Don’t Show For Their Shot

More than 400 police officers from Ensenada got a chance to get their COVID-19 vaccine, after they were called in urgently because there were several defrosted Pfizer vaccines from the 50-59 years old group that just did not go to get their shot.

A video circulated on social networks were Oscar Perez Rico, head of the state health office, was having a heated argument with federal government employees that were refusing to give the shot to police officers because they said it was not intended for them, while Perez Rico responded by saying that the vaccine was almost going to expire, and it would have to be thrown away.

They were able to resolve the argument and the police officers got their shot, but Perez Rico stated his preoccupation with the 50-59 group, which consisted of 40,000 persons, and only 29,741 came to receive their shot.

SOURCE: El Vigia and El Vigia (Information and photo)

Destination La Misión

BY MARTINA DOBESH

10,000 years ago, the first people walked along this coastal area, now known as Baja California. Before it was named La Misión, the Kumiai Indians lived here. Today it is known as part of the old mission trail and the old road runs between two mountains with a lush estuary at its center. This area remains delightfully underdeveloped, allowing the historic essence to be felt. With the increased popularity of Baja California cities, often La Misión is passed by as a weekend retreat. However, it is because of its very nature that La Misión makes for a quiet and relaxing weekend retreat with many more points of interest than one might have as a first impression.

There were no boundaries or borders, only vast untouched land. Here the Kumeyaay (Kumiai) lived for thousands of years. Nature provided everything they needed and the people honored all that was given. They were hunter gatherers and learned fishing later. They sang their stories which were passed down for thousands of years. These first people left a very small footprint upon the land, a few arrow heads and pottery shards, but one recent find near Playa La Misión unearth a wealth of information about a people who lived 800 years ago at the edge of the sparkling sea. The archeological dig in 2010 unearthed a young woman. They said that she was a holy woman and carried a sacred pipe. Those who unearthed her called her Mujer de Humo or the Woman of Smoke. Still today, there are annual ceremonies where the Kumiai sing their sacred songs and all people are welcomed to visit.

Then came the Dominican missionaries and they began to name things. Misión San Miguel was established in March of 1787 in the valley near the San Juan Bautista stream, also known as the Guadalupe River. Their reports told of the lush grazing land, fresh water, an abundance of wild life and migrating birds. Nature provided abundantly for the first settlers to this valley. Today, there are only 3 adobe sections remaining of the old mission and they are protected with coats of adobe wash. While there is little to see, one can imagine how beautiful it must have been when the stream ran filled with fresh water and food was plentiful. Today, there is an agribusiness with fields of organic vegetables grow seasoning. The fortunate community is furnished with fresh produce right from the farm.

Development has been limited by nature herself. What was once a flowing river has become an estuary which feeds into the Pacific and can be seen from the toll road and is visited by migrating birds. In fact, it is a very important migratory channel along the coast and “250 species of birds utilize the estuary and adjacent uplands,” reports Richard Erickson, biologist and ornithology specialist. The best months to visit for optimum photo opportunities are September and November, but birds are always a special attraction year-round. La Misión residents are bird enthusiasts have their camera’s ready. Some very important photos have come out of this love for the flying ones: Great Blue Heron, Osprey fishing hawk, white egrets, Red Tail hawks, white pelicans and all manner of ducks and shore birds, and on occasion a very rare sighting has occurred. The local community has a watchful eye and is asking the Mexican government to consider it as a protected area. Near the edge of the estuary is Las Palmas campground with dense palm trees and a swimming pool. It is quiet off season; however, it is impossible to get a site during the summer months.

OK, pull on your boots, put on your Stetson and get ready for a unique horse lover experience. For those travelers that really want to have an experience of early Baja, the best way is by horseback and there are several wonderful opportunities. Visitors have a choice of riding on the beach or across the valley and into the hills. Marty Harriman has developed a very special ride into the back country where people can spend the night off the grid in comfy tents and enjoy a night fire, looking up into a night sky, seldom seen in the cities.

La Misión had a scare when the Walking Dead took over the town. Fear the Walking Dead, a popular TV series was filmed here, utilizing the small pueblo of Alisitos and the restaurant, Magañas. The dusty pueblo made for perfect settings of a post-apocalypse town ravaged by ghouls. Magañas is a local hang out with lively bar, good drinks and the biggest burritos stuffed full to overflowing. It is the real deal and still welcomes horseback riders to stop by and tie up at the old hitching post. It was unnerving for some local residents to see the decaying dead dragging one foot behind them, heading in for a beer. Puerta del Valle is a small complex with a delightful coffee shop for your favorite espresso. Acher’s Pizza features authentic thin crust pizza and Chef Uriel studied in Italy to perfect his craft. Dmytri’s Original La Fonda is over 80 years old now and is just down the road for its famous patio dining. Only a short drive north, there is the iconic Splash for delicious Mexican seafood with an astounding array of seating choices.

The ever-popular Airbnb is well represented in La Misión. Many of the places are nested on the bluff overlooking the estuary. With a cup of steaming coffee, the quiet morning greets you. The sparkling Pacific meets the estuary and lazy vultures catch a morning thermal, while long-legged white egrets stealthily sneaks up on a fish. Other options for lodging line the beach at Playa La Misión and a step out the door starts you on a morning walk on the beach. A few of these locations offer morning yoga on the patio and tours into the wine country which is only 20 minutes away. In fact, La Misión is the gateway to the Guadalupe Valley by way of the old highway 1, which is a lovely scenic drive. You can plan a day trip for wine tasting and return for a quiet evening on the coast in a snug Airbnb.

After an invigorating day of adventurous horseback riding or touring, you can indulge in a massage or pedicure at Spacifico Spa, where master esthetician massage therapist, Antonio Salceda knows how to put you right again.

I’ll bet that the quiet wonder of nature will have you on the patio watching a flaming sunset that happens during the fall and winter months. La Misión is a destination for all seasons, but the best months are off season, September through April, for the skies are clear of coastal fog, inland temperatures are cooler and the beaches belong to you.

Navy Training Ship to Dock in Ensenada and Offer Guided Visits

Mexico’s ARM Cuauhtemoc training vessel will be visiting Ensenada from April 21-24 and again from August 6-9, as part of its “195 days around Mexico” tour with 250 training sailors and officers aboard.

Guided visits will be offered free of charge by Navy personnel. If you are interested in participating call 646-297-9148 on April 16-18 (from 9am to 5pm) to reserve your place. Children 12 or older are welcome aboard.

The ship was built in Spain and delivered to the Mexican Navy in July of 1982. It has sailed over 400,000 nautical miles in her 38 years of service. It will be a beautiful sight in our bay, don’t miss it!

Compañeros, Rising!

Back in the 1980s, a group in Ensenada came together to try and form something few had seen at the time—a Mexican charitable organization (Asociacion Civil) with both Mexicans and Gringos participating that could really make a significant difference in people’s lives. What is now known as the Compañeros de Baja Norte, A.C. was formally organized 28 years ago on October 7th, 1992, and they have helped scores of local charities and hundreds of students for almost 30 years. But today, faced with the deadly twin headwinds of the worst Mexican recession since the great depression and the impacts of lockdowns from COVID-19, the organization is struggling to survive, and indeed was inactive for most of 2020. 

 

“I told the membership last summer that the Club itself was at risk,” said Compañeros VP Katrina Tinnaco . “It was vital that we start talking about the future and how we could get there. Our membership was fearful. We were at real risk of shutting down the Club.”

 

But to get to that future, the organization needed to consider it’s past—a long and proud tradition that started in the 1980’s, when members of the Dixon & Salisbury families, among others, formed this Club—a place where expats and locals could get together, socialize, and use the proceeds from these events to support local orphanages and old folks homes, many other charities, and give scholarships to 30 students twice a year. They began to construct a clubhouse building (complete with a hall seating 100+, and full kitchen/bar), and after a legal dispute was settled, the group formerly known as the Amigos de Ensenada became the Compañeros. Soon after that, they bought the empty lot next door to use for parking. By the early 1990s, the Club was in full swing, with monthly events, rummage sales, raffles, music, dances, a bridge club, and more, and an expanding list of grateful recipients.

Companeros Clubhouse distanced setup

 

“The Compañeros has always been a welcoming place for new Ensenada residents and longtime locals,” noted Jim O’Brien, a Club member every step of the way, since settling in Ensenada 34 years ago in 1986. “We have a great mix of members, have always been open to the LGBTQ community, and especially welcoming new area residents. We’ve had presidents that have been both Mexican and Gringos, women and men. But over the years, it’s been harder to get younger people involved.” With multiple employees, and their clubhouse building lying empty while still incurring all of the fixed costs associated with them, the Compañeros cash began to dwindle to record lows.

 

Fortunately, some younger members stepped up to help. Treasurer Meghan Magrann in 2019 had gone through the involved process of converting the group’s books to Quickbooks, allowing for better accounting, analysis, and support. “Addressing the basics of internal controls helped us get a better idea of where the club was at and revealed other opportunities as well,” noted Magrann. “But that analysis only took us so far—we needed a clear vision for the future and the will to pursue it.”

 

Enter new leadership. Members of the existing leadership council approached Mark Tuniewicz, a member who had led the turnaround of the Ensenada Expats facebook group and doubled its size, created the popular Ensenada Karaoke Club, volunteered for the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, is an active member of Ensenada’s Spanish language Calafia Gardening Club, and was a former Lion’s Club member, among other charitable endeavors. Tuniewicz got right to work last fall organizing and was named president in 2021.

Mark Tuniewicz and wife Kate Mensch at a Companeros event in 2019


This year, the Club began to create and publicize new events, including a rebranded series of monthly “First Friday” happy hours, which have taken place both in-person and virtually, depending on the COVID traffic light. They have also created the new Ensenada Succulent Society, a “club within the Club,” which meets the first Saturday of each month in Ensenada. Other “sub-clubs” are expected.

 

The organization began working last fall to do a deep clean/sanitization of its facility, followed by a change in layout from banquet-style tables to smaller, distanced tables for 2-4 people each and implemented a mask mandate to enter the building. In October, they performed a “soft opening” of a happy hour event with just 15 people and changed the way people pay for food and drink to eliminate the long entrance lines sometimes found at their events. The combination of cleaning and process changes was intended to reassure the membership that the Club was taking action to protect their health. 

 

While other, similar groups have either suspended all activities due to the pandemic (including large social groups like the Punta Banda Yacht Club, with 200 members, or the Sociedad de Amigos, with 100+), or significantly scaled back their activities (like Rosarito’s United Society of Baja California, with 156 members), the Compañeros have innovated by moving to a program of “To-Go” meals for special occasions, selling out 50 dinners for Thanksgiving 2020, and anticipate a similar reaction for their 2021 Valentine’s Day dinner to-go as well. “Our events have always been known for great food, and these To-Go” events present a real value, people really love them, and you get high-quality food, professionally prepared,” said Club Secretary Mary Jane Boone, who has often led efforts in the kitchen.

Meghan Magrann fills in as bartender at Companeros

The Compañeros is preparing to develop additional new activities driven by investments in outdoor seating (there’s none today), indoor televisions (also none today), and other needed capital improvements. To support this vision, club leadership recently approved the “Compañeros 2021 Capital Campaign,” seeking to raise a modest USD 5,000 to cover these needs. 

 

Tuniewicz noted: “We’ve got seating plans used by the U.S. Parks Service—they build their rustic wood seating to last decades, and so will we. T.V.’s and a sound system will give us a lot more flexibility in terms of the types of events we can hold post-pandemic, be it a sports event, happy hour, or Karaoke. We’ll make these forward-looking investments this year and be ready to go when it’s time again for in-person events.”   

 

“For us to continue our work for the next three decades, we need your help now!” noted 89-year old member Tillie Foster. And if you’ve met Tillie, previously profiled on these pages as the “Baja Queen”, you know she can be very persuasive. 

 

While there’s lots of optimism, the reality is your donations are needed *now* to help the Club survive and thrive. You can contribute to the 2021 Compañeros Capital Campaign via Paypal, using the email address [email protected]. And thanks for helping us start the next 30 years of the Compañeros Rising!

Sempra’s Energy Ensenada Investment Will be Decided Today

The public consultation regarding the acceptance of Sempra’s Energy 2-billion-dollar investment in expanding their current Ensenada plant, is going on today.

The exercise is promoted by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who says that every transcendent decision for the country should have its citizens’ approval.

Anyone with a valid Mexican voting ID, with an Ensenada address, will be allowed to vote on the consultation in any of the booths set up for this.

Critics of the consultation say that Sempra is only missing one permit to go ahead with its expansion, and it has nothing to do with the consultation. The only license they are missing is one from the federal Energy office, and the decision of this office will be completely independent of the output of the consultation.

Several business groups and the government of Ensenada have been very vocal in their approval of the investment; as they say, it will positively improve our state’s economy.

Sempra has committed to investing 21 million dollars in public works that will directly benefit Ensenada’s citizens.

Women Campaign to Improve the Community

Fundacion de Amazonas was founded about 6 years ago, and its original goal was to provide shelter and employment opportunities for battered women.

The project was established by Nataly Valdos, who named the organization “Amazonas” as recognition for the fact that historically, women have shown strength, resolve, and capability in situations where such characteristics were beneficial.

Working with women in the community to acquire the resources necessary to initiate and expand the program from a concept to a reality, Nataly found several people eager to assist her in achieving her goal.

What better time than October to recognize the altruistic efforts of Nataly and women like her, because this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. BCAM is an annual global campaign by major breast cancer charities, all of which seek to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.

It also stresses the importance of annual screening to detect the presence of the disease early, thus allowing treatment to occur before the situation becomes a major crisis.

Nataly is a cancer survivor herself; she’s 58 years old, and has been undergoing cancer treatment for the last 4 years.

In keeping with the moniker “Amazonas,” Nataly has shown her strength and resolve in maintaining the program to provide opportunities for women to find work that gives them a sense of accomplishment and simultaneously satisfies a need in the community of which they are a part. She refuses to let her own difficulties deter her from providing the essential service that is so meaningful to her, and so helpful to others.

Nataly met a friend through the Ensenada chapter of Companeros Asociacion Civil, a local partnership of people who meet to focus on, and attempt to resolve, issues within the community.

Together, they envisioned an opportunity for women to work by learning to use sewing machines to manufacture clothing and accessories which they could then sell as a means of supporting themselves.

Nataly and her friend, along with other women who joined their cause, solicited funds from the community to purchase the machines, along with the materials and accessories necessary to begin their projects and to embark upon a newly found sense of worthiness and independence.

These women, who had suffered physical and sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and financial insecurity were now able to support themselves in a manner which gave them a sense of pride and accomplishment, while at the same time teaching them a new skill and fulfilling a need within their community.

Initially, the idea was to simply make clothes and sell them.

Eventually, the ladies realized that besides engaging in a sort of “retail” activity, they could assist other members of the community by providing clothing to children in orphanages and schools.

In that way, they themselves became benefactors, graduating from people in need to people now in a position to help others in need.

Their work has been gratefully received by the children, who look sharp and feel proud in wearing garments that are clean, new and stylish, clothing which was made specifically for them.

As with any charity during the Covid-19 crisis, Nataly and her organization needs donations and volunteers to continue the community service which she and her friends so unselfishly provide.

Please search for her timeline on Facebook under “Fundacion Amazonas de Ensenada” and offer whatever help you can to make life a little better for these women, who in turn make life better for struggling children and others in need.

Thank you for your support!

Bomberos Need Your Help

Baja is deep into its annual fire season, and as in every year in recent history, brave firefighters are in need of help from the public. The first major fundraising event of the year, Valle en la Playa, was held in the gardens of Castillos del Mar Hotel and Resort in September, with all funds going to help Rosarito’s firefighters through the Pro Firefighters Board. This was a “must-attend” meeting, even with respect to Covid-19 social distancing. Thanks to event organizer Martha Dominguez for granting me last-minute press coverage as a representative of this periodical.

Valle en la Playa 2020 was held with COVID safety elements firmly in place: tables, widely spaced, had seating reduced from 10 or 12 guests per table in past events to six; servers and guests were temperature-tested and hand-sanitized prior to entry, and masks were worn by all when not seated at tables.

Valle de Guadalupe wineries in attendance were La Cetto, Al Ximia, Corona del Valle, Santo Tomas, and Vinos de Casa Emiliana, aka “VE.” The Rosarito Tourism Board was also set up to announce that Rosarito is still open for visitors from the North as well as other Mexican cities. “We want to create a different impression of Rosarito,” declared Paul Corona, Emcee of the event. “We are more than Papas and Beer.”

Small monthly events, to be held at different venues, are planned to continue to raise money for the Rosarito Fire Department. Three-course meals, following pandemic safety protocols, will be held at various Rosarito establishments, with proceeds going to local firefighters.

Proceeds from the evening’s tickets were donated to the Pro Fire Fighters Board towards the purchase of a special drone with a thermal camera to allow firefighters to view and better plan their firefighting efforts before entering dangerous areas.

Rosarito proper is not the only area needing to help their Bomberos. La Mision firefighters, who serve areas such as Santa Anita and Alisito, are community volunteers that spend much of their own money on uniforms, firefighting equipment and gasoline. Fire boots have been set up as collection jars at Del Valle Café, Shorty’s vet shop (across from Magana’s), Splash, and Kraken, to gather funds to go toward gasoline and other necessities. Please throw a handful of pesos in them when you visit. The firefighters will be there for you when the need arises.

Currently the firefighters of La Mision are renting space in a nearby building, but a new fire station is being designed by students at the University of Ensenada as a permanent installation. Future plans include training by certified trainers in Baja. These newly trained firefighters will return and train others.

The La Mision Rotary is very active in helping out the firefighters in the extreme southern area of Rosarito, and the “doorway” to the Valle de Guadalupe. Of number one importance is money for gasoline for the fire engines, trucks and support vehicles. Also needed are four Scott air tanks with straps, Indian (or like-brand) collapsible backpack sprayers, as much of the firefighting is “gorilla” style. Also needed are firefighter gloves, suspenders, and boots of varying sizes.

Several Rotarians have contacts that can help with the purchases, so cash donations are of utmost importance. If you have contacts that could help firefighters, please contact Sunny Crowley at [email protected] The official Bomberos Facebook page is www.facebook.com/groups/507783403257151.

We can all help our local firefighters when called upon through social media to purchase cases of water, or help make sandwiches to be delivered to firefighters on the line.

Baja Community Benefits Farmworkers

Debra Blake and Carol Woodruff are among the many expats working with the local community to improve the living standards for everyone.

Their group, “Feeding Farmworkers’ Families,” focuses on those  whose arduous labor provides sustenance not only for their neighbors, but also for communities outside the local area.

It all began about 41/2 – 5 years ago. Debra Blake joined a small group of volunteers, spearheaded by Barbara Bridge and Patty Rodriguez to offer an opportunity to provide some basic education, with an emphasis on English-language instruction, to the children of the farmworkers.

The volunteers hoped that once the kids were comfortable speaking some English, they could overcome their shyness regarding Gringos, and be more confident in seeking to communicate and collaborate with them; in this way, both the people from El Norte and the natives of Baja would benefit by employment options and through sharing the history and the traditions of both cultures.

The current school is very spartan, consisting of only a concrete foundation and a roof, a simple structure with no walls, having evolved to that point from teaching the kids who sat on blankets in the open air.

The boys and girls were naturally eager to have an opportunity to improve their opportunities through education, and of course their parents welcomed the chance to see their children broaden their horizons.

The school, “Escuela en Las Lomas,” quickly grew from a few families to 40 to 90 students, primarily the children of 30 Oaxacan farm worker families with whom the founding group of volunteers developed strong relationships of trust, great expectations, and hope for a brighter future. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced the closure of this project.

The farmworkers who are the focus of the group’s efforts are very poor. Some of them live in homes provided by various church groups, but many others live with extended families in plywood and black plastic shacks with dirt floors. About half of the 30 families have no electricity, and none have running water.

Their homes, marginal as they are, can only be reached by a dirt road that is impassable during wet weather.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the families were already very poor, working hard in austere conditions to earn a meager $8 – $10 per day per person.

The pandemic very quickly resulted in the closing of schools, restaurants and other institutions dependent upon the produce that the farmworkers provided, thus reducing demand for their output by more than half.

This caused layoffs, which made an already needy community even more insecure; some families could not even afford to provide themselves with basic necessities, including food.

The food delivery program began in mid-April of this year; Carol and Debra expected (“hoped” is a better word) that the situation would be short-lived. Of course, that has not been the case.

The need for assistance to these struggling families continues to this  day.

Carol and Debra obtained the despensa (“pantry”) guidelines from DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) in April and began to procure and distribute full allotments of rice, beans, lentils, sugar, eggs, milk, oil, oatmeal, canned vegetables, tomato sauce, pasta, tuna, and other basic nutritional needs every two weeks to the families in their care.

Eva’s Garden (a local organic grower/distributor) contributes an assortment of fresh, organic veggies.

In addition to food supplies, they are able to provide sanitary products from a regular donor who purchases them from Costco and donates them to the families through this team.

Carol says, “Our donors are families and friends. The Punta Banda community has been very generous.”

As schools remained closed due to the Covid crisis, Debra and Carol became aware that the children were in need of structured activities and materials that stimulated them to become more involved in learning.

To that end, Barbara Bridge provided the students with homework, which they actually loved; it gave them an opportunity to reinforce what they had learned in a classroom setting, such as writing and math skills.

The older students are given supplemental worksheets from LaRousse Publishing, the results of which are collected by Debra and Carol, who provide feedback and award stickers to reward the kids’ efforts.

Each child learns at his or her own pace, depending on individual capability and eagerness about a given subject. Age/grade levels are not relevant in such an environment; each child’s willingness to learn dictates how fast he or she will progress.

More recently, FFF provided a mobile library, which now has 75 books in Spanish, with more on the way. The kids are so grateful for this additional opportunity to grow and learn that they have proven themselves responsible by returning the books so that they may check out others.

Some of them are already on their 3rd book in as many weeks.

Beba ‘Cosmo,’ who teaches Early Childhood Education at Alocalo University, selected and provided the books. Beba is the owner of the popular Punto en el Cosmos Restaurant in Maneadero.

Other notables who have generously given their support to FFF prep and delivery operations are Hideyo Hirada, Chris Blake, Gary Woodruff, and Kathleen Estay.

Pris Austin of Los Adoptables in Maneadero adopts and treats the sick animals that the group sometimes encounters on their travels in the hills.

As Carol says, “It takes a village, and so many people have contributed in different ways.”

The next project underway is a collaboration with Baja Networks (Carlos Munguia) to install solar panels and a microwave receiver in an empty casita in the area without electric service; this will provide internet access to families and allow kids to attend classes via tv.

If you would like to make a donation to help our community to thrive, the FFF PayPal pool is https://paypal.me/pools/c/8oDfwG0bVK. Clothing and shoe donations suitable for hill terrain, non-perishable food, and school supplies are needed and would be greatly appreciated. Contact Debra Blake or Carol Woodruff via Facebook.

Hidden Gem Found In La Bufadora

Whenever I think of food sold in the Bufadora area, fish tacos, seafood cocktails and churros come to my mind. BajaMed cuisine is something that never crosses my mind.

That all changed last week when my wife and I visited La Bufadora Tequila Grill, which, judging solely by its name,  seemed to have even more of the same; the name somehow evoques fish tacos and margaritas in my experience, but oh my god was I wrong!

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were met by the owner, Alex Malpica, popular in the area as a resident of the Rosa Negra Ranch, one of the most popular properties in the area, having already been featured in 4 movies. In contrast to the fabulous property he calls home, I was not impressed with the restaurant, which seems to have a funky ambiance; I asked Alex about it and he said that he just wants to maintain a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere to his restaurant.

Alex told us that he came here from the US several years ago, retiring from the restaurant industry over there, and decided to acquire this restaurant. For many years it did very well, selling the usual combination of affordable Mexican dishes that are a staple for Bufadora tourists, but about a year ago Alex had an idea: What if he could bring food similar to the meals served in the wine valley to his Bufadora restaurant.

It seemed like an impossible idea. How would he even begin to succeed in such a daunting task, but in the process of searching for a solution, he met local Chef Temo Cortez. Temo brought to the table exactly what Alex was looking for, being an experienced chef who could create fine BajaMed cuisine at his restaurant.

Alex is not an easy man to impress, in my opinion; it’s even harder to impress him in the restaurant industry, as he has more than 40 years of experience in that area; so naturally I was very curious about Chef Temo that he talked so highly of.

Since I’m more easily impressed by actions than by words, I listened to what the pair had to say but decided to reserve my opinion until I tasted the food there.

We asked for a menu and got a letter sized sheet with about 14 different dishes, we decided on the shrimp, aguachile style, and a Tomahawk steak.

While we waited, Alex explained that one of his passions was Tequila, and that he makes his own Extra Añejo tequila, for which he has recently started distribution in the States. While we waited for our food we tasted two of his tequilas, Xedda and Escortauro, which were very good.

Chef Temo surprised us with an octopus tentacle appetizer, served sizzling in a mini iron pan. As soon as the plates arrived, I was impressed with the presentation; here I am thinking that I’m once again going to be let down with the food at one more restaurant, and this beautifully constructed plate comes to our table, and when I tasted it, oh my god, the savory, meaty, octopus just instantly takes me to the Valley; this is actually wine valley food, I say to myself.

A couple minutes later the shrimp aguachile comes, nope, it was definitely not your typical Mexican seafood restaurant aguachile, this one had a very subtle flavor, acidic but very well balanced. Later I learned that this was achieved by chef Temo by adding white wine and olive oil to the green chili and lemon juice. The presentation was immaculate, adorned with Salicornia and beet sprouts, which also helped bring the flavors of the plate together.

A few minutes after we finished with the shrimp, the Tomahawk was brought to the table. Another one of Temo’s gems, beautifully presented, cut into pieces, with the bone still left on the plate. By that time, after the first two dishes, I was already expecting greatness and I was not disappointed; in fact, I was once again impressed. The steak was beautifully accompanied by a dab of Oaxacan mole with balsamic, and roasted vegetables

When we finally finished the steak, we were already stuffed, but we opted for the  crème brûlée anyway, it was a great finish to our meal.

The Bufadora Tequila Grill is located on KM 22.5, on the road to La Bufadora, just a few meters before getting to the arches that mark the start of La Bufadora. They open Tuesdays from 12:00pm to 8:00pm and Wednesday to Sunday, from 8:30am to 8:00pm. BajaMed style cuisine is only available from 2pm to 8pm, and Sundays all day. ,

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