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”!