True Baja Tales

Published 05 April 08 12:59 PM


 The Connection

 By Patrick Osio
 

True Baja Tales
‘I knew this is where I wanted to be. I was home’

With all the media hoopla about the lack of personal security faced by American visitors in Baja, it occurred to me that none of the articles on the subject interviewed Americans and other foreigners living in the affected region.

What was their take on the situation?

Accompanied by documentary producer/director Hector Molina, my partner in TransBorder Communications, our film editor, Armando Maldonado, and camera/sound man, I took off to Baja to interview expatriates living there.

We interviewed 25 expatriates, mostly Americans, living along the Baja Pacific corridor. We started at Playas de Tijuana, less than a mile from the U.S. border, and finished at Baja Mar, about 50 miles from the border. The backgrounds were as diverse as one would find in any major city.

Melinda Bates was the White House social director during the eight years of the Clinton administration, becoming a good friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. After her White House stint, she remained in Washington. One day in 2005 she saw a television report on the Baja coast, became fascinated, and told her boyfriend they had to check it out.

They visited Baja a few weeks later. “I found the region intriguing, but resistable,” says Bates. “After all, what kind of a nut changes her life in one visit. But then I was taken to a lovely house with a front patio overlooking the ocean and I knew this is where I wanted to be. I was home. I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘I hope you move with me. If not, I’ll miss you.’” (He moved with her.) She is now writing a book about her White House years.

Bates says she felt safe in Baja and had no security or safety problems. After living in Washington, she says, she learned there are places not to visit, things not to do, and developed an awareness that became second nature. She brought those attributes with her to Mexico.

Bob Coleman, a Chicago native, retired first to Puerto Vallarta in the Mexican tropics, but he and his wife could not take its heat and humidity. So in summer 2005, they visited the Baja coast and purchased a penthouse with sweeping coastal and ocean views.

In Puerto Vallarta, says Coleman, the security is enviable. One can walk downtown and feel perfectly safe at any time of the day or night. In Baja, he has had no security problems. But he does take precautions. He doesn’t go into neighborhoods he is not familiar with, particularly at night, a precaution he took while living in the U.S.

Kathy Katz, a Hawaiian, attended college in Los Angeles and loved the atmosphere of the big city, but not its bigness. Seventeen years ago she found Baja, with its nearness to San Diego and Los Angeles, gave her the proximity to large cities while retaining the Hawaii beach atmosphere she grew up with. She sells real estate in Baja, which has her on the move along the entire Baja coast, but is not fearful for her safety. To the contrary. “I’ve had car problems and cars stop to help without expectation of payment or return of favor,” she says. “They simply do it because that is the way the majority of Mexicans are.”

John Godfrey, who owns the Palm Grill at Cantamar in Rosarito, a popular steak and watering hole for expatriates, has lived in various parts of Mexico and is one of the few I met who can speak good Spanish. He has been in business for several years without security problems.

Sharon Storey and Debbie Shine, who moved to Baja a few years ago and started an interior design service, also say they have not had security problems.

Ann Hines, a Canadian expatriate who founded the nonprofit United Society of Baja California, also expressed no concern for her safety and security, noting that she is constantly on the move from one place to another.

At Rene’s restaurant on the south fringe of Rosarito Beach, we met with a club of writers living in Baja. They expressed no fear for their personal safety.

I came away with the impression that while there is crime in Baja — sometimes serious— it is not much different than anywhere else. And with the added measures put into effect by local authorities in Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada, the crime rate for both major and minor offenses has dropped in the last few months.

What continues is the Mexican government’s war against organized crime — in particular drug and human smugglers and the kidnapping gangs in Tijuana. These encounters will probably continue to grab press attention in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Patrick Osio Jr. can be reached at posiojr@sandiegometro.com. The veteran consultant also has issued The Mexican Perspective, an intensive primer on business culture and protocol. Copies are available at hispanicvista.com/sales/book_sale.htm.

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