Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks be to Loreto!

With the passing of the American Thanksgiving this week we can now “officially” consider ourselves in the Holiday Season here in Loreto Bay. I have observed in earlier postings the growing numbers of people arriving every week and this week the resident population is at it’s highest since probably the Spring Break period earlier this year. From now on the population will continue to grow through to pre-Christmas and then return to a more stable level after the New Year.

As a Canadian living in Mexico with lots of American friends, I am in the fortunate position of being able to celebrate TWO Thanksgivings! In Canada, due to the earlier harvest and arrival of winter, we have our Thanksgiving in mid-October (just before I left to come down here). While I suppose Americans living in Canada celebrate both dates with a dinner, I expect it is more common, particularly down here, for Canadians to “double dip” the Turkey Holiday. For me, the idea of a second helping of Turkey to break up that long stretch until Christmas dinner is most welcome. So I was looking forward to the invitation I had received to join a group of mainly American ex-Pats at their dinner here in the town of Loreto.

For those of us living here for the winter months, if not year round, the traditional family holidays are celebrated with our family of friends in and around Loreto. So it was, this past Thursday, when I packed up my contributions to the dinner and headed into town to join the hosts, Jeff and Paul at their beautiful home in town.

For the occasion I had promised a loaf of my home-baked bread (see “Raking and Baking” for the story of my first attempt at bread making last year). Given the fact that the party was to start mid-afternoon I had decided to bake the loaf the night before, so as not to be rushed on the day. However, when I pulled the loaf out of the oven about 9:00 o’clock Wednesday night I knew I had a problem. For the first time in over a year of baking this “No Knead Bread” with consistently good results, this time the loaf came out flat! I quickly decided that the Mexican flour I had used must have gone stale and, while the bread would probably taste fine, it was not the usually “domed” artisanal loaf that I had come to expect and definitely not up to the standard that I expected for such a special occasion.

So, after doing a quick calculation of the timing (the bread is supposed to rise for up to 18 hours before baking) I decided that if I started the recipe again right away – using fresh Canadian flour that I had fortunately brought down with me last month – I would JUST have enough time to bake another loaf and take it hot from the oven to the party the next afternoon. In addition to this loaf of bread I was taking a bottle (jug?) of wine and some beer to contribute to the table and I was also taking my portable sound system to play music for the party. The bread came out of the oven at 2:45 and I wrapped it in a towel to insulate it’s 450 degree temperature and headed off to town, arriving at Jeff and Paul’s just after 3:00, being very Canadian and on time.

When I arrived about half of the 20 invited guests were there and the remainder were soon to follow. Everyone brought a contribution of vegetables and side dishes and Paul was in charge of roasting the Bird. As seems to be traditional with Turkey everywhere – no one had apparently told the main course how long it was supposed to take in the oven and so the dinner was slightly delayed until “Sir Tom” decided the time was right.

But no one was complaining – with my sound system filling the air with strains of the Buena Vista Social Club and people relaxing around the beautiful patio pool area of our hosts wonderful home – the warm late afternoon sun was gradually replaced with a lovely soft star-filled evening that felt more like mid-summer, than a couple of weeks before winter officially began.

When the Turkey had decided the time had come, the guests were quickly gathered and began to make their way around the kitchen island and help themselves to the contents of the many platters and bowls that would make up our feast. Along with the Turkey was, of course, stuffing (made with the unique pre-toasted toast that you can buy here) creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, a shredded carrot salad seasoned with ginger, a delicious yam (or sweet potato) casserole and a creamy pistachio salad along with TWO home-made breads, mine and one with olives and a hint of garlic. (I started recalling this menu with some trepidation, as I certainly don’t want to leave any dish out, but if I have failed to mention someone’s contribution I will claim it was because it must have been so sublime as to pass all memory!) After the most determined had helped themselves to second helpings, it was then time for desert – a delicious spicy traditional Pumpkin pie with whipped cream should have been more than enough, but two more of the many highlights of this meal to remember were still to come – a peppermint-chocolate ice cream pie and individual Pecan tarts that melted in the mouth – sublime!

Many toasts (of the liquid kind) were made, and a happier, better fed party would have been impossible to find that night in Loreto – perhaps in all of Baja! Many hands made quick work of the mountain of dishes, pots and pans, I switched to “bluesier” after-dinner music, and the party moved back onto the patio to enjoy some last conversation under the star filled sky before we each took our leave from our genial hosts – truly thankful for the wonderful evening, fabulous meal and the warm sense of community that had made the occasion so memorable.

As I drove home, back to Loreto Bay, I reflected on how much I had to be thankful for; the beautiful home I was returning to, the good friends I had shared the evening with, and most of all, the exquisite place that has brought all of these people together and created the special atmosphere that made everything else possible. For it is this place called Loreto – “where the mountains come to swim” - that is the magnet and the common denominator to the experience of living here.

This place called Loreto, that has brought together such a diverse group of people who saw the potential to make their dream become their reality. Through their individual actions they have made their contribution to the intangible, but essential quality of community, which is the most valuable and enduring aspect that we all share when we call this place home.

So I am indeed giving thanks for much as we begin this Holiday season, but most of all I am thankful for all that has brought me to where I am here, and for the sense of belonging that is the best part of that experience – sharing wonderful food with friends that have become an extended family – it doesn’t get much better than “Living Loreto!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Convenience comes to Loreto Bay

It takes more than homes and people to make a Village. Therefore, for some time now it has been high on the wish list of the Homeowners here in Loreto Bay to have a store in our development to provide some of the basics – a Convenience store – or as they are somewhat confusingly called here in Mexico, a “Mini – Super”.

The original development plan called for a large Market to be set-up in one of the yet unfinished Posada buildings on the Paseo, at the entrance to the parcel of land that was set aside for the Beach Club. With work stalled on these buildings, pending the transfer of the development to a new Developer Owner, this service will be years away, assuming the plans remain unchanged.

But there is no shortage of finished commercial space on the main road that runs through the Founder’s Neighbourhood, although, with the exception of a few administrative offices for Security, the Home Owners Association and some Construction Offices, most of the spaces stand vacant. As well, there are now some commercial enterprises on the Paseo; an Office/Showroom for a furniture supplier, a design office for an Independent Contractor, and, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, Dorado Properties plans to open a permanent office in the near future providing Real Estate and Property Management services.

But, until this week, there was nowhere in our “Village” to buy the basic items that are necessary to make living here more convenient. That has now changed with the opening of Baja on Site – the newest addition to the business of living here in Loreto Bay. This enterprise is the realization of the dreams of Evan and Julie Fager, a young couple who have chosen to make this place their home, where they will earn their living and where they want to raise their family, two young boys; Seth and Bubbies.

I first met Evan just about a year ago, when he was moved here from the Loreto Bay offices in Scottsdale to manage the IT services for the original Developer. At that time, Julie remained in their home in Arizona raising the two boys, and Evan lived for several months at the INN until the business operations of Loreto Bay were shut down. Rather than returning to the States, like most of the ex-pat employees did when their jobs were terminated, Evan chose to stay and moved his family to a rented home here in Loreto Bay.

As the family settled into their new home and culture, Evan began to set up his own independent IT service company, applying his considerable computer skills to the needs of the businesses based here and taking over the Loreto Bay Home Owners website. While these enterprises would be demanding enough for most people, Evan and Julie had an even more ambitious dream. Julie had managed a chain of convenience stores back in the US and she wanted to apply this background to the opportunity that was apparent here in Loreto Bay and open her own store, providing much needed basics for the growing population of residents here.

There was an ideal location available – a couple of years ago one of the storefronts had been set up as a Farmacia, the Mexican name for (your getting ahead of me now) a Pharmacy, to provide over-the-counter medications and personal care products. Unfortunately, the combination of a too limited range of products and a then too small market base to draw on, proved to be unworkable and the store closed after less than a year of operation. However, with a handsome set of built-in display cabinets over plenty of storage in cupboards and drawers, the space was perfectly suited for the purposes of Julie’s new store.

However, this is Mexico, and nothing here is easy or straight forward, and so it took several months of planning and negotiation, starting this past summer, before all the necessary arrangements were in place for the business to begin. But the work did not end there. Now that the location was secured, the even bigger challenge of stocking the shelves with the right inventory began. This was the most critical part of the plan – finding the right balance of convenience and hard to find products that would be necessary for the business to succeed.

I have written before about the complex process of shopping here (see “Hunting and Gathering” and “To Market, To Market” in my archived postings), there is no such thing as “one stop shopping” in the town of Loreto. And while things have improved dramatically over the past several years, it remains a challenge to find the variety of familiar food products that we are all accustomed to where we come from up north. For residents of Loreto Bay, the situation is further complicated by the fact that we are 15 km from town and, with the exception of a small Mexican owned “Mini-Super” near the north entrance to the Nopolo district, which keeps uncertain hours and has a very limited inventory, we had no option but to make the trip into town for even the most basic needs.

Entrepreneurship 101 – find a need, and fill it! But first, they had to fill the shelves, and, different than Julie’s previous retail experience where someone else was paying the bills, this time it was their own money they were investing. And so began the biggest (and scariest!) shopping trip of their lives. Returning to Arizona, they began to buy, in retail quantities, a Santa’s length list of the things they had determined would most appeal to their neighbours and soon to be customers. Stocking their new store with a combination of basics, and impossible to find extras, along with a targeted assortment of hardware and accessories that they chose with the kind of knowledge that can only come from the experience they had gained by living here.

But then it turned out that buying all of this stuff was the EASY part of the job! Properly clearing it all through customs, and paying the substantial duties on imported foodstuffs, took many frustrating weeks and added considerably to the costs of their inventory. And the process still isn’t complete – with a large part of their purchased stocks still in transit, even though the shelves were impressively full when they finally opened this week. Then there was the local component to their selection – dairy products, soft drinks, bottled water - and, for some of us, most importantly, BEER! The labyrinth of the Mexican wholesale system had to be penetrated, Suppliers found, accounts set-up, deliveries made – a learning curve far steeper than the regular day-to-day challenges that all we Homeowners face while just living here.

With determination and perseverance (and the energy and enthusiasm that comes from a measure of youthful ignorance) all of these challenges were met and the results, in the form of a beautiful, well organized little store, opened this week in Loreto Bay. But, like most new enterprises, there is more to come. With new inventory arriving and a growing “wish list” added to daily by their initial customers, Evan and Julie have big plans for the future.

In addition to the basic foods, condiments, toiletries, snacks, candies and drinks, Baja on Site also has a respectable library of used books for exchange, a good selection of US compatible DVDs for rent or swap, even DVD players and basic Notepad computers for rent. They also will be providing sidewalk tables and free wireless internet for visitors who don’t want to bother hooking up their homes for a short stay. In my conversation with Julie, she hinted about even more ambitious plans for the future, but I don’t want to put any more pressure on this ambitious young couple than they have done so already!

So this week marks an important milestone in the future of Loreto Bay – our first retail store providing us with the little treats and extras, along with the convenience of having essentials readily available near-by. Something that we all take for granted back home – the ubiquitous “C-Store”, there’s one on every corner - but for those of us who call this community home (even temporarily) and have learned to live without that access and convenience, this small store begins the process of making this collection of buildings we live in, feel like a real community.

And for that we have Evan and Julie, and their dreams and ambitions to thank – they are truly putting their money, and their future on the line – “if we build it, they will come”! So I will close this with a strong encouragement to all Loreto Bay Homeowners, those who are here, and the many who will come back during this winter, please, help yourself and this couple, support their store and their dream, because it takes a Village to make a Store – and that is a new dimension of “Living Loreto”.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Big week in Loreto

This week there were two significant events that I would like to share with you – the opening of the Dorado Loreto Office on the Town Plaza, and the Second Annual Paella Cooking Competition – a big week in Loreto!

As many of you who read this Blog and are familiar with Loreto will know, Nellie Hutchison, the Broker Owner of Dorado Loreto used to have offices on the Malacon up until last year. These offices occupied the ground floor of the building, from which she also ran a small Hotel business with four or five bedrooms behind the main office and a popular Bar/Tapas/Sushi Terrace above, with great ocean views. These several businesses demanded a lot of time and staff to run and, with the downturn in the economy last year, and after becoming weary of the challenges of being an employer here in Mexico, Nellie decided to shut down this combined operation late last year and concentrate on the Real Estate business in town, and particularly here in Loreto Bay.

With the opening of this new downtown office, Nellie is declaring her confidence in the future of the Real Estate market here in Loreto and the surrounding area, and she is also signalling the fact that she believes the time for that renewed confidence is beginning now. If the old maxim: “the three most important things in Real Estate being location, location and location” holds true, then it must go double for a Real Estate office, in which case she couldn’t have found a better place to re-open her business in the town.

The historic centre of the town of Loreto is the town plaza, which fronts on to the Town Hall, or as the Mexican’s refer to it, much more grandly, as the Palace. This plaza is currently undergoing a complete renovation and beautification. The large old trees are being left in place but the old Gazebo/Bandshell has been torn down and will be replaced with a new structure providing the same functions, but, according to the plans I have seen, it will be much fancier with surrounding plantings and fountains. The remainder of this large square will have decorative paving, more plantings and restored statues and other historic elements from the original plaza. Work is currently underway and now most of the site preparation appears to have been completed, so the new design should start to be created very soon, as the project is slated for completion is before Christmas – this year.

On the adjacent side of the square to the Town Hall sits The Hotel Posada de las Flores, a beautifully conceived property that, although it is less than ten years old, has the look and feel of a classic old building that could have been meticulously maintained for over one hundred years. I love taking visitors into the lobby of this hotel, beautifully decorated and furnished in keeping with the new/old look of the building, with a charming fountain at it’s centre. During the day, the entire lobby area, which takes up most of the main floor, is dappled in a most uncommon light, which, as one’s eyes wander up through the atrium, where a staircase climbs up to several floors of rooms, you discover the source of this quality of light - and the most stunning part of the building’s interior. The ceiling of the Hotel Lobby is made up of many panes of glass, about a foot square, but it is only when you realize the strangely wavering, turquoise tinted light, is coming through the floor of the swimming pool that is located on the roof of the Hotel, that you appreciate the full uniqueness and beauty of this building! On the outside of this Hotel, along the square, there is a charming sidewalk tapas bar, and right next door to that, is the new office of Dorado Properties.

Now before any of you get the wrong impression, after the description of the Hotel

next door, Dorado’s office is, to say the least, modest in size, probably less than 500 sq. ft. But, it is perfectly suited to the purpose, and Nellie has shown her design flair and good taste by transforming what had previously been an abandoned cell phone store (that was in terrible condition when the last tenant left) into a elegant little salon with a modern desk unit at the entrance and a fine conference table with 6 high backed upholstered chairs around it. Every surface in the room is new, from the dark wood laminate floor to the faux painted walls in a rich burnt umber colour, to the crisp white textured ceiling with stylish chrome halogen light fixtures. A crown moulding runs along one wall, from which are suspended acrylic panels holding feature sheets on a variety of listed properties for sale.

It was to this venue that a couple of dozen friends and associates congregated in the late afternoon to see the new digs and congratulate Nellie and her team of sales people on the opening of the office. Naturally, because of the size of the office itself, after a quick tour most people drifted back outside and stood around visiting on the sidewalk in front, enjoying chilled beer and bottled water, until a beautiful chocolate cake arrived to celebrate the other noteworthy event of the day; Nellie’s birthday! Following the cake and the combined best wishes of those assembled, some of us retired to one of the two restaurants facing onto the square and relaxed over a delightful dinner, al fresco on their patio.

The other event that marked this week was the aforementioned Paella competition. Last year, at this time, the first cook-off occurred at the home of the organizers; Shelia and Manfred Aistrich here in Nopolo, the community surrounding the Loreto Bay development. Those of you, who have been reading this Blog from it’s beginning, may recall “An Extraordinary Day” in which I described that event in detail. Following the acknowledged success of that inaugural event, it was decided that a larger venue was going to be required for holding the second annual competition and the patio/garden beside the Fonatur offices, here in Nopolo was chosen and proved to be an ideal location.

To provide much needed support and volunteers, to handle the requirements of ticketing and managing the even greater numbers that were anticipated this year, the members of the Optimist Club of Loreto were recruited and the club became the worthy recipient of the substantial funds that were raised. One of the remarkable aspects of this event to me is that the competitors provided all their own ingredients, which included large quantities of choice seafood as well as chicken, sausage and many other delicacies that make each pan of paella unique. This contribution of all the food, to serve generous portions to the over 200 hungry and appreciative in attendance, represents a substantial cost for each of the eight teams in the competition, and results in all of the funds raised from the 200 peso admission fee, going to the beneficiaries of the charity.

But the fund raising didn’t stop there. Beverage tickets were sold in large quantities and could be exchanged for cold beer, tasty sangria, or bottled water. One of the original sponsors, Roganto Wines from Ensenada, who provided two cooking teams as well, were also offering free tastings of their various products throughout the afternoon and selling their excellent vintages - a rare opportunity to purchase fine wines that would be otherwise unavailable locally and they donated a generous share of the proceeds from the sales to the funds being raised. In addition, there was a well subscribed 50/50 draw and two raffles for complete paella starter kits, including a medium sized pan and hard to find ingredients!

My small role in the event was providing music and a portable PA system which I set up about 10:00 in the morning to provide “music to cook by” and a steady stream of food lovers started arriving before noon to meet and visit and, most importantly, stroll around the eight cooking stations where the different teams were hard at work preparing their personal versions of this traditional Spanish dish. Did I mention the aromas? Oh, bliss! The delicate and savoury smells wafting from each of the teams temporary open air kitchens; chicken, sausages, peppers, and of course the seafood – flaky filets, succulent scallops, monstrous shrimp, calamari, and often, choice lobster tails – that studded the traditional round flat pans which were brimming with saffron golden rice, absorbing all of the complex flavours of each unique recipe. Is anyone getting hungry out there?

At 1:00 two teams of Judges were assembled; first one to judge the appearance of each of the pan offerings. The moment of truth repeated itself at each station – the pan was removed from it’s cooking appliance, often requiring two team members just to lift it (some of these pans measured four feet across!) and then layers of insulating towels were removed before the final tented covering of yards of foil were peeled back to reveal the beautiful, symmetrically arranged display of all of the above mentioned delicacies on their steaming golden background. These pictures really don’t do these edible mosaics justice, because without the benefit of “smell-o-vision”, at least half of the experience is sadly missing.

The second group of judges had an even more difficult task – they had to judge samples of rice only, collected from each pan – because for the true aficionado of Paella, it’s all about the rice! The many exotic and succulent ingredients that are added, contribute the subtle flavours, but it is the colour, texture and, of course, TASTE of the rice that is how the best of the best is judged. As soon as the “officials” had had their chance at each pan the now famished hoard of over 200 descended on what became (albeit civilized) a paella feeding frenzy!

Some, who had been “casing” the different preparations during the morning went straight to their chosen team and filled their plate with that one offering. But the majority of others sampled what became a cornucopia of subtly differing versions of this delectable dish – and there were NO bad choices! After finding scarce space on their laden plates for a side of fresh crunchy Caesar salad, served from heaping bowls of romaine (now I know why it was almost impossible to find any decent lettuce in town this week!) the happily expectant food lovers made their way to the many squares of tables and chairs, arranged under large shade tents, to indulge themselves in a rare opportunity – enjoying too much, too good, food!

Relaxed conversation continued long after the plates were emptied (and often refilled) until the moment of truth arrived for the anxious competitors – the announcement of the Judges decisions. One award was given out for presentation and three for the rice tasting, the winner of which was judged to be the overall winner of the competition, there was also a People’s Choice award, where those attending could record their opinion as to their “flavourite”. Other presentations were made for the 50/50 draw (which alone raised over 3,000 pesos, half of which went to the charity) the raffle prizes were presented and finally, reluctantly, the now satiated crowd started to drift away mid-afternoon. The volunteers made quick work of striking the cooking stations and removing the chairs, tables and shade tents. Many large bags of garbage and recyclables were disposed of and as I packed up my sound system the peaceful green space that had hosted the event was returning to it’s original condition. By the way, although the final tallies have not been done as I write this, early estimates are that between 60,000 and 70,000 pesos ($5,000 - $6,000 US) were raised for the Optimist Club’s good works – a truly magnificent contribution that will go a long way in supporting those in the greatest need locally. In light of the serious economic challenges that have hit this community during this year of swine flu, tourism slow down and hurricane damage these funds take on even greater significance!

So this was a week that combined new beginnings, holding the promise of a successful and enterprising future, and the return of an event that marked a highlight of last year for me. And this year it doubled in size, and dare I say, enjoyment, while making a generous contribution to the local community that shares this special place with us! Truly this was a week to be remembered, bringing together some of the best aspects of life here in a special and unique way – a way that makes me appreciate even more – “Living Loreto”!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Something to Beach About

If a picture is worth a thousand words this may be one of my longer essays. (If you click the pictures below they will open up to full screen)

One morning last week I awoke a bit earlier than usual, about 6:30, and, rather than roll over and try to catch another snooze, I looked at the greying sky through the bedroom blinds and decided there were better things to do. I pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and grabbed my camera and headed to the beach.

Since I’ve been down here, I have settled into a morning routine of spending from 9:30 to about 12:30 in the Dorado Loreto Open House on the Paseo. While this can hardly be considered an onerous schedule, it does impose some necessity for timeliness that I have quickly adapted to. This usually includes a 5 minute commute on my bike, carrying a briefcase with my laptop, various papers and keys, coffee and water. My mornings “at work” are occupied with computer busyness and, most importantly, talking to people who drop in for information or just to visit. Needless to say – it beats working for a living!

As a result of this commitment, I have been preoccupied and have missed out on one of my favourite pastimes living here – walking on the beach at sunrise. This was brought home to me by a special friend who is not here this winter, but understands the special magic of that time in this place, and reminded me in a recent email to “smell the surf”. So with that in mind, I headed out on this morning to walk the beach towards Punta Nopolo and the rising sun.

There was a reason why, over a year ago, I chose the title picture for this blog –
it is one of my favourite images. The sun rising from behind the hulking mass of the rocky point, the contrast of the soft shades of indigo through dove greys turning to deep glowing burgundies, then crimsons into rich tones of gold, bringing with it, rich clear blues to the sky. So begins another day in paradise!

On this morning, the tide was high and the gentle lapping waves reached to the edge of the sea grass dune that separates the shore from the row of beachfront lots, and I noticed how thick and lush these tough grasses were after the recent Fall rains.
This is still a natural beach, scattered with a
collection of palm boughs, and a few larger logs of palm trunks along with the detrious washed up by the high surfs that accompanied the recent storms. So as not to paint too romantic a picture, there was also the usual evidence of civilized pollution, mainly bits and pieces of plastic; bottles, Styrofoam, and a few odd things like a single sandal and further down an odd sock.

But as I look out over the glassy water to the far horizon of Ilsa Carmen, I see one
of my favourite sights – Pelicans, skimming just inches above the surface of the
water, motionless, while seemingly self propelled, as they cruise effortlessly for hundreds of yards between occasional wing beats. These are the true masters of their domain – their prehistoric appearance, perfectly adapted to do precisely what is required to thrive as one of the dominant fishers in this environment. At this early hour, another Pelican is floating lazily about 50 yards offshore, it’s perfectly grotesque beak tucked comfortably into the chest, being gently rocked by the wavelets that are rippling into shore. Apparently this specimen has chosen to catch a few more winks of sleep before taking to the air in search of breakfast, but as I get closer I notice it is keeping one eye on my progress – you don’t survive for millions of years without learning to keep wits about you - even if you are sleeping in.

Continuing on down the beach I note the progress that has been made during the
summer on the row of beach front homes north of the INN. Where there was only one occupied home earlier this year, surrounded by the rough construction of others far from completion – now a number of the neighbouring buildings are in the final finishing stage with windows and doors in place and cosmetic details receiving most of the worker’s attention. I pause for a moment and squint my eyes and imagine what this scene will look like later this winter. With a row of individual and unique custom homes, catching the first rays of the morning sunrise – it will be a truly impressive sight! As these homes reach completion, and their personalized designs become distinct I realize that in a development like this, where the vast majority of homes are variations on a handful of standard floor plans, the one-off nature of these custom homes adds greatly to their appeal.

A little further down the beach I come to some sharp reminders of the potential

destructive power of this now placid environment – shade palapas uprooted from the sand – some missing their thatched umbrella roofs that had been supported by a sturdy frame of braced 2x4 struts. These beachfront “sentinels” had been subjected to the brunt of 100 mph winds for hour after hour during the sideswipe of Hurricane Jimena almost two months ago, considering the force and duration of the storm it’s surprising that there wasn’t more evidence of damage.

These palapas are in front of the Inn at Loreto Bay, which reopened, on a reduced scale, about a month ago. Here too there are some signs of the wrath of Jimena; some beachfront windows still boarded up and a broken window which probably should have been. Overall, there is little sign here of any damage from the storm, but it’s was a different story 200 km north, between Santa Rosalia and Mulege, where the centre of the storm sat for 8 hours or longer, resulting in serious damage and some destruction.

At the end of the Beach I turn and retrace my steps, the sun, now rising at my back

and casting long shadows, strikes the ring of homes that are rising from the shoreline. Once again I try to imagine what this scene will look like, in a few year’s time, when all of these homes, as far as I can see down the beach, are finished and are catching this golden morning light. Walking back to my home I think about how far things have come with this development over the past few years – hundreds of homes finished, over a hundred more in the final stages of completion in the second phase. In spite of the many frustrations and challenges we “pioneers” have faced, and continue to deal with most days, the simple act of spending half an hour walking solitary along the sea shore at dawn has the remarkable effect of putting things into proportion. I feel calm and yet energized, I relish the beauty around me and I realize that my glass is not half full – it runneth over! And this is truly one of the best parts of “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Guests Assemble

Arriving in Loreto at this time of year is like being among the first guests to get to a party. You looking forward to it being a good party, and you want to be sure not to miss a thing, but you’re feeling a little self-conscious about being among the first to arrive. Then, as more people come, the excitement builds, and, with the growing strength in numbers, the party’s success has become a self-fulfilling prophesy! Each new arrival is greeted with growing enthusiasm and the first questions are; “When did you get here?” and “How long are you down for?” Every new addition confirms and reinforces the presence of those who are already here, and they in turn add to the growing momentum.

Like arriving at a party, the “guests” are curious to first look around the place and get their bearings. After the initial focus on their own homes, it shifts to their cluster neighbourhood and then beyond to include the whole development. “That paving is completed, this courtyard has been planted, and that custom home is almost finished” – every change is noted and discussed.

Even in just the past two weeks I have noticed the parking in the Paseo filling up with more licence plates from far afield – often from places where winter has already begun. You can see people unloading boxes and suitcases from their dusty vehicles after the long drive south. Every “Flight Day” more travellers rumble their suitcases through the paved pathways – always managing to bring a few more things down with them than the last time.

Once the unpacking is done the first priority is usually followed by the first big provisioning trip to town. Hunting and gathering for the essentials – remembering favourite stops and where it is that you can always find balsamic vinegar. Then, loaded down with more bags, they return to “a casa”, and the shopping is unpacked, the fridge and cupboards are restocked, and then things begin to feel “lived in” again. So begins the transition into the home-away-from-home.

Back in town you can feel the reawakening too – stores are becoming busier, restaurants are fuller, there are people on the streets, and there is a buzz in the air. This is in contrast to what was a very quiet summer here in Loreto. Many local businesses were struggling with the ripple effect of the reduced numbers of workers requiring fewer services and spending less money. So now that the cycle has reversed, we really feel our presence is appreciated and we are making a difference, just by our being here.

On subsequent trips to town; going to dinner, picking up more supplies,

buying gas for the car or visiting with friends there; we notice the changes that have happened over the summer since the last time we were down here. New restaurants have opened; others have done additions or renovations – enclosing a patio, adding more seating, sprucing up with new signs or decor. New businesses have opened, others closed, and there are signs of other changes; the town plaza in front of the municipal offices is being torn up and redeveloped, bringing major changes to the centre of town. This reminds us that time does not stop, just because we are not here, life in Loreto goes on, as it has for over 300 years. Business may be slower, the weather may have posed challenges, but the spirit of the town, and more importantly, the people, the Loretanos, are strong, as they have proved time and time again.

One of the changes is that the “new bridge” closest to Nopolo/Loreto Bay is now finished – thankfully in time for the recent storms. Over the past several years there have been many bridges built over the deepest arroyos on Mexican #1, the main road that runs 1600 km from Tijuana to Cabo. Having travelled the length of this road a number of times, I appreciate and respect the importance of this infrastructure investment. As the main commercial artery for the entire peninsula, the economic significance of Mex. #1 cannot be exaggerated. The vast majority of what is consumed and produced in the entire peninsula travels this road in the hundreds of transport trucks that are the most common vehicle on this road. While these are definitely NOT “bridges to nowhere”, for most of the year they ARE bridges over nothing.

The reason is that the arroyos that they cross are dry rocky beds that become raging torrents only periodically, when the Baja is inundated with rain from tropical storms or hurricanes. Without a bridge, the largest of these runoff channels are subject to major erosion in extreme rain events, and the submerged sections of pavement can disappear. The resulting breakage of the only road connecting hundreds of thousands of people in the Baja can interrupt most travel and commerce until repair crews can start rebuilding the roadbed and eventually repaving it. In a serious storm these washouts can happen in dozens of places along the road, creating logistical chaos for the repair crews and everybody else, until the damage is fixed. This is why the recent focus on developing a new system of bridges over the weakest spots on the highway, plays such an important role in the entire economy and society of the peninsula. With the addition of this third bridge in the 15 km. between the town and Nopolo/Loreto Bay we now have a “robust” connection to Loreto that passed the recent challenge from the storm effects of Hurricane Jimena with flying colours and will help to insure our access in the future.

A positive aspect of the recent rains is the transformation of the surrounding

desert into a lush green landscape. Tough grasses grow thickly at the sides of the road, the wild shrubs and bushes that carpet most of the plains leading up to the Sierra Gigante mountains are now leafed out and green - enjoying the one time of year they have more water than they need. It amazes me how quickly things can grow down here when there is water. The new grass can easily grow a foot in the month since the rains began and the brush seems to sprout green almost overnight.

This explosion of growth and life is quickly shared in this harsh environment. The notoriously skinny Baja cattle, who, most of the year, somehow manage to graze where it appears there is nothing edible, are now gorging themselves on all the lush green foliage that surrounds them. Their sense of urgency is not just due to greed, this excess of food will only last a short time – weeks, perhaps a month or two – before the relentless sun and heat inevitably return the desert to its normal parched condition. The banquet will soon be over, and life for the grazers will return to their regular struggle for survival, and gradually the ribs will reappear on these hardy breeds of cattle, burros and horses.

And so the stage is set for the new “party” to begin. The winter “guests” are assembling and settling in, perhaps for the winter, perhaps just for a week or two, but they bring with them their hopes and dreams of the life they want to lead in this special, beautiful place. And as their numbers grow, from one year to the next; as more homes are finished and more Owners have the time to spend enjoying them; so grows our community in size as well as spirit. Those of us lucky enough to have been living here for several seasons no longer feel like strangers in a strange land. We still have much to learn, and to appreciate about this place we have chosen, but if we are fortunate, now, when we return, we know we are coming home – and that is the best part of “Living Loreto”!