Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thoughts about comings and goings

This will be the last posting from here in Loreto for this winter season, however I plan to write one more about my drive back to Canada after I arrive there in early June, so please check back again for the final posting of this season.

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen a steady exodus of friends and neighbours leaving for wherever they spend their summer months, culminating a trend that began back in April when the numbers of people leaving started to exceed those arriving.  By the time I leave next weekend there will probably be fewest people here since after I arrived back in mid-October.

Although I am looking forward to seeing family and friends on my return north, and I will appreciate some of the conveniences of the North American urban lifestyle that are taken for granted when you live there, the more time I spend here, the deeper my connection has become with this place.  One of the biggest changes for me will be returning to an English language culture where I am once again in the linguistic majority.  While my comprehension of Spanish has improved this winter, and I am determined, once again this summer, to re-do the Rosetta Stone language program that I studied last summer, being surrounded by a foreign language on a day to day basis creates a low level of stress that only becomes apparent when it disappears.

In spite of all of these positives awaiting me north of the border, there is definitely a melancholy associated with seeing the vibrant and thriving community that has been the center of my life here for the past eight months shrinking house by house, neighbour by neighbour.  The somewhat depressing, but now familiar, process of shutting down my home for the summer and deciding what things I am going to be bringing with me and what I’m leaving behind is one of the last steps remaining before I start the long drive north.

The drive itself (this next one will complete my 8th round trip since buying my home here) continues to be both a challenge and an adventure.  Travelling solo 4,000 km, likely over a four day period, requires both physical and mental stamina, and with luck, more or less equal amounts of both exhilaration and tedium.  For this later reason, a very important accessory on the trip is my satellite radio, which, if all goes well, should provide me with continuous reception of almost 150 stations covering every conceivable taste in music, talk and audio entertainment.

Also on this trip I am planning on adding a new “wrinkle” to the journey – I am going to video record highlights of the drive with the goal of putting together a personal travelogue.  I think I am now familiar enough with the drive to anticipate some of the most interesting stretches so as to be able to have my video camera running to capture them.  For those of you who are trying to “picture” how I am going to manage driving my vehicle “Denny” over narrow (and at times treacherous) Mexican roads or busy eight lane US Freeways while shooting video – relax!  I have secured a “mono-pod” to my dashboard to mount the camera on, and I will be able to control the recording on and off and even rotate the camera to focus on yours truly for commentary with a simple flip of the hand; or that’s the plan, anyway!      

Getting back to the travel to and from Loreto at this time of year, I don’t want to give the impression that the travel is just one way, as each inbound flight (now down to four per week from LAX) still brings visitors and Homeowners, but I think that most of these arrivals now are going to be for shorter term stays, while most of us who have been here for the winter will have left by the end of this month.  The irony about the fact that so many people have gone is that in terms of the weather, this is one of the most perfect times of the year – temperatures are in the mid-80’s and generally calm conditions with cooling breezes picking up in the later afternoon.  However, from this point on, temperatures will rise, followed by the humidity, and the rhythm of day to day life here will gradually slow down as people adapt to the changing climate.

Of course, not everyone leaves for the summer, there are a few hardy souls among the ex-pats who live here year round, considerably more in the town of Loreto than here in Loreto Bay.  But even for those who consider this their year-round home, there are often plans for a “vacation” north to more temperate climates for a break from the extremes of heat and humidity during the summer.

But with the heat come the fish, or more accurately, as the water temperature rises different species are attracted to these waters, Dorado being particularly prized as a sport fish here during the summer.  This of course brings with it fishers from far and wide to test themselves in one of the most prized sport fishing environments in the world.  Noticeable at the airport, are the (mainly) men arriving on every flight with large coolers to pack the product of their adventures in these prolific waters back home to enjoy, no doubt served along with stories of “the big one that got away!” 

The late summer and early Fall is also the time of year that inclement weather can occur in this part of the world.  We have not had a serious storm here in over a year and a half, when Hurricane Jimena passed within 200 km and dumped up to a foot of rain with winds up to 100 kmph.  I have heard talk that this may be a La Nina year and if so there may be more storm activity than usual, whatever usual is!  But after over a year and a half without significant rainfall in this area, the possibility of replenishing rain is welcome, particularly among those who depend on raising free range cattle for their livelihood. 

While I have never been here during a “storm event” up until now, I am planning to return before the end of September, the earliest that I have been here in the Fall, which is prime time within the mid-August through mid-October “window” that is the Hurricane Season here.  So I will be watching the weather closely, as I get ready for the trip south, to hopefully time my travel back through the Baja and avoid being on the road during any heavy weather.

So as I prepare to leave Loreto for another summer, and return to where I used to call home for so many years before finding my place in the sun, it is a time for me to reflect on how this place has changed over the years since I first came here, and also to realize how I have been changed by it.  While this annual exodus is bittersweet, looking forward to seeing the people I miss, but missing the people and place that I now call home, leaving and looking forward to my return is another part of “Living Loreto” – Vaja con Dios!  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fishing, Cooling and Cleaning

As the countdown continues to my departure from Loreto to return to Canada in a couple of weeks, I am trying to knock things off my “bucket” list to wrap up this season’s Blog topics.  So last weekend I decided to go fishing for the first time this season.

While sport-fishing from a panga boat is the “normal” way to fish here, I enjoy being able to cast from the shoreline around Punta Nopolo, the rocky outcrop at the south end of the development, that gives it’s name to the district around Loreto Bay.  This spot is ideal for me, first because it is a 15 minute walk from my home and it gives me access to deeper water than the shallow shoreline that makes up the rest of the Bay.

You will note that my reasons for this preference did NOT include the results that I have had on previous occasions when I have fished from this location.  That is because it is important for you to understand the criteria on which I base my success, when it comes to fishing.  For me, it’s all about the journey and not the destination – in other words, actually catching fish is not the object of the exercise.

Rather, it’s an admirable excuse for taking a nice walk along the beach and occupying a couple of hours at the water’s edge; watching the waves, the tropical fish darting among the rocks, and enjoying the views  of sea, sky, and shore stretching all around me.  Based on my past experience, my measure of success when fishing is not gauged by what I catch – but how little I lose, lures and tackle, etc.

So with that that perspective in mind, I collected my tackle bag, fishing rod, a bucket with other accessories and my camera and I headed out.  When I first reached the beach the water was calm and there was only a slight breeze, so far so good.  It was also low tide, which means that the apron of rock around the base of Punta Nopolo where I like to stand and cast from would be exposed and accessible.  As I continued along the shore I noticed rolls of dried seaweed scattered along the beach where it had been stranded by the receding water of the low tide.

The significance of this seaweed eluded me at the time, and I carried on to the end of the beach and started out around the shelf of rock surrounding Punta Nopolo to my first casting spot.  As I reached the large rocks at the edge of the water I saw that they were covered underwater with a huge bloom of thick seaweed that I had seen the tell-tale traces of on the shore.  There would be no fishing from shore today – any lure I used would become hopelessly tangled in the thick weeds when I retrieved it after casting.

The presence of seaweed is not a common occurrence in these waters, most of the year the water is clear of vegetation.  But, like many other natural elements in this environment, things come in and out of season and run in cycles – and this is the “season” for seaweed.  As I have described in the past; every bug has it’s season, but that season is limited – by another bug, and so the cycle continues.

There I was, halfway around Punta Nopolo, carrying all my fishing equipment, but not able to fish.  So, I continued around the base of Punta Nopolo, enjoying the views, watching kayaks, snorkelers, and birds.  Scrambling up and over boulders relaying the fishing equipment from one resting spot to another, taking several rest stops in shady spots until I made it all the way around and reached the beach at the entrance to the estuary on the far side.

Standing on the beach in a few inches of water was a majestic grey heron, still as a sculpture, fishing for lunch.  I gradually approached to get closer pictures, with the full knowledge of the bird, which checked my progress with each advance, even though I never got closer than 50 feet away.  Finally, however, I broke through some invisible “heron barrier” and with a guttural squawk it was airborne, clearing the estuary bay with a few powerful strokes of it’s massive wingspan.

While a sighting of this kind of bird is uncommon, it is not unheard of – but for me, it holds a special significance.  Many years ago I did a soul retrieval with a Shaman in western Canada following which, he told me that my Power Animal was a Grey Heron, not quite the Lion or Tiger I had wished for, but as I learned more about the characteristics of this creature the more I came to appreciate my newly discovered relationship.  It is for this reason that I take particular comfort from these occasional sightings – it is important to me that I live somewhere that my Power Animal calls home.

With the departure of the Heron it was time for me to head back along the beach to my home, still carrying my unused fishing equipment, but I was not returning empty handed, in fact, the catch of the day turned out to be far more than the few “nibbles” I had expected at the outset.  Adapting to the change of plans, scrambling up and over the boulders, enjoying the peace, beauty and solitude as I paused to rest, and culminating with my Heron encounter – this simple exercise of going for a walk had taken on a spiritual significance.

On a more mundane level, I have been making other pre-departure preparations this past week.  Recently the air conditioning quit in my car, and with a long hot drive ahead of me in a couple of weeks fixing it was definitely a priority.  I got a referral from another Homeowner to someone in town who services both home and car A/C systems.  After locating their home and place of business in the Zaragosa district of town, I managed to communicate the problem and understand the solution (lubricating the compressor and recharging the Freon coolant) and agree on the charge of 750 pesos, about $65.00. 

However, before the work could begin he managed to explain that he needed to buy the lubricant at an electrical supply shop downtown and so I drove him to the store and then gave him the cash to purchase the $25 spray can of lubricant.  After we returned, the servicing only took about half an hour and then I paid the balance of what I owed (plus a small “propina” for the quick and cheerful service) and I was on my way again “chilling” in my once again cool vehicle.

Among the other departure details I have renewed my visa for another year, upgrading it to an FM2 from the FM3 I have had for the past five years, and had my annual teeth cleaning appointment with Dr. Ramos (Maestro Limpio, April, 2010) at the bargain rate of 500 pesos ($45), during which appointment I also conveniently had my car washed nearby!  

So a week that began with an attempted fishing trip (which became a reminder of a spiritual journey) and included oral and auto maintenance (at bargain Mexican prices) was a fitting example of how the exceptional and commonplace combine for the unique experience that is “Living Loreto”.      

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Market - a visit to the "Mall" Loreto style

As I start to think about my return trip to Canada in a few weeks I have been considering topics for the remaining Blogs and decided to make a return visit this week to the Sunday Market that is held in Loreto.  While I have written about the Market previously (To Market To Market, January ’09) I confess that I have not been there this past winter season.

The reasons for my abstaining from going to the Market are twofold.  First of all, the quality of the produce available at the stores in town has improved over the past years to the point that I can usually find the fruits and vegetables that I want on my regular shopping trips into Loreto without making a special trip to the Market on Sunday mornings.  Secondly, since I have been working in the Dorado Properties Office five (or sometimes six) days a week most of this winter, I look forward to a relaxing day off on Sundays and the lure of fresh vegetables had not been enough, until now, to tempt me out of my weekend routine.

However, no sacrifice is too great for you, my loyal reader, and so this past Sunday I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the Market about 9:30.  The location of the Market is on the edge of the Arroyo (dry river bed) that separates the south side of Loreto from the “suburb” of Zaragosa.  It can be reached off Francisco Madero, which runs parallel to the Malacon, south off Salvatierra, but I took a “back road” from the highway that passes north of the Airport land and comes in on the Zaragosa side.

The Market itself is two rows of temporary stalls facing each other across a gravel path that is about 30 feet wide.  The stalls stretch about a hundred yards, with a parking lot along the length of one side.  Scattered among the stalls are about half a dozen vendors that sell a variety of fruits and vegetables along with a few smaller ones that specialize in a couple items like strawberries, or some prepared foods like Tamales.  These vegetable and food stalls are the main attraction for the ex-pat community, as well as many of the locals, for whom a trip to the Market is often a family occasion, much in the same way as a trip to the Mall is for many North Americans.

When I first started shopping at the Market several years ago, I thought that it was going to be more of a “Farmer’s” market with locally grown crops available, but much of the produce available here comes from outside the Baja and as far away as the US, in some cases.  While there are some locally grown products available, they tend to be the staples like tomatoes, onions, oranges and possibly lettuce, a lot of the rest that’s available comes from the mainland and a surprising amount comes out of boxes identified with their US origin. 

As I understand this, it is due in large part to the intensive factory farming practiced here, particularly in the northern Baja, close to markets across the border in the US.  In other Blogs about my drives through some of these market gardening areas, I have described hundreds of acres of fields covered with shade structures where one crop, like tomatoes are grown.  Because this mono-culture of export crops dominates most of the arable land (usually meaning good access to artisanal water) there is not much variety in locally grown produce.

However, this is a great climate for growing citrus, the small flavourful “Key” limes are available almost everywhere and one of my most enjoyable indulgences which is freshly squeezed orange juice every morning.  I may have mentioned in an earlier posting, that after a shortage the previous winter due to a late hurricane, this year I am again able to purchase 20 lb. bags of oranges for about $4.00.  While the price and the flavour are great, these oranges tend to be smaller than what you see in Supermarkets up north and there are often blemishes on the skin that lowers the grade on appearance.  As I understand that is typical of the local produce, the Grade “A” crop is exported at top prices, while the remainder is sold locally at a lower price.

Otherwise, most of the stalls are stocked with an amazing variety of goods, often second hand, including clothing, household goods like small appliances, pots and pans and dishes, shoes, some furniture, automotive accessories and general hardware.  Added to this, there are a couple of busy open air restaurants with plastic tables and chairs, serving breakfast and lunch, including Menudo, a soup with reputedly restorative powers over hangovers.

There are several fish vendors selling frozen shrimp, scallops, lobster, and squid out of stacked coolers and at one table they were shucking fresh clams.  One of the “fixtures” of the Market is the “Goat Guy” who sells both goat meat in the form of a skinned carcass hanging at his side (that he will cut portions from on request) and a table top display of rounds of cheese.  There is also a large booth which is a nursery with an extensive display of potted plants that attracts a lot of interest from gringos and several smaller booths are selling hand-crafted jewellery.  Another jewellery vendor wheels a baby stroller totally covered with an amazing display of beads, ear rings and bracelets of every imaginable description.

On the gravel walkway between these booths there are several other independent vendors moving around within the crowd.  Some push small wheeled coolers packed with a variety of ice treats, clanking small cow bells incessantly to attract attention and often surrounded by children with their heads stuck in the cooler inspecting the inventory.  Another one walks around carrying a 12 ft. pole studded with bagged balls of candy floss on sticks, trailing another enthusiastic crowd of kids behind him.  A common fixture in town, often set up near Banks or other high traffic areas, are the table-topped barrow vendors offering a kaleidoscope of different coloured nuts and candies, each variety separated into impeccable display bags, the contents ready to be weighed out into individual servings.

Some of the most popular booths are full of stacks of second hand clothing which obviously require patience to sort through, and a careful eye to judge size and fit, since there are no changing facilities nearby.  The presence of this clothing makes me wonder where it all comes from, but I expect some of it may find it’s way here from north of the border, where it may have been donated to various charities.  Regardless, here it is, and judging by the crowds it attracts, the price is right!

Shoes are another popular category of product for all ages and types of customers.  Work boots for the many men involved in construction and outdoor work, and by younger, more style conscious teenagers, there are highly coveted running shoes, which one vendor has carefully wrapped each individual shoe in plastic film to protect this prize merchandise from the ever-present dust.  For women, surprisingly delicate high heeled sandals and pumps – surprising, considering the condition of much of the pavement and amount of sand and gravel that one encounters here as a pedestrian.  I was also told recently that the selection of children’s shoes here was far superior than was readily available in many large North American markets, perhaps an indication of the exalted position small children are held in, in this society.  

Speaking of children, one of their most popular booths is the “Toy Store” with a counter-top display of inexpensive brightly coloured plastic toys and treats that have mesmerizing powers over the “captive” audience of youngsters surrounding it.  I also saw a meticulous display of nail polishes and other make-up products in another booth appealing to the young women, across from another booth selling natural source skin care products.  Meanwhile, for the men, there are tables of used tools and hardware that need to be examined carefully (sort of the equivalent of an open-air Home Depot) and on the fashion side for him, there are a number of display racks crowded with dozens of baseball caps bearing every conceivable logo and brand, team and city, almost all of it in English.

As I make my way out of this marketplace I realize how the initial impression of tattered awnings lining a dusty lane has changed.  In fact, this is a very efficient group enterprise that provides almost everything that is necessary for a comfortable lifestyle, by local standards.  And although the first impression, particularly to a foreigner’s eye, is one of shabby chaos, when you delve into what is actually available here, you are hard pressed to find any significant shortcomings for what most of the people here want and need. 

But after all, being pleasantly surprised by the differences between appearance and reality is one of the lessons I have learned, over and over again, while “Living Loreto”.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Seinfeld, Heat, Politics and The Kiss!

This might well be considered a “Seinfeld” Blog – a posting about nothing.  Well, not actually nothing, but not the usual focus on a specific subject, rather a collection of impression and events from the past week.  This week marks the beginning of the countdown to the end of my current stay here in Loreto.  In a month’s time I will be heading north again to spend the summer back in Canada, so with four weeks to go, I am beginning to think about the shift that is going to come.

In addition to seeing family and friends, one of the main reasons that I return to Canada for the summer is the weather – summers in the Baja are HOT – and as a direct result, there are many fewer ex-pats here during those months, which, of course impacts the business prospects for my selling Real Estate at that time of year.  In fact, that seasonal shift is well underway now, and has been for the past month already.  Although there is still a steady flow of Homeowners and Visitors arriving by air, the number of flights has been recently reduced from seven to four days a week.

Many of the Homeowners who stay here for the winter season have left already, some to file taxes earlier this month, others to comply with six month travel limits, and I regularly meet others who are getting ready to leave.  In fact, “when are you heading back” is a familiar conversation theme when we meet and chat with each other these days. 

Another popular topic for conversation is, like everywhere else, the weather, and it’s been getting hotter here earlier in the season than has been my experience in previous years.  This week, when I was driving my vehicle in the early afternoon, the usually accurate outside thermometer was registering 98 degrees F, or about 35 degrees C, a good 10 degrees warmer than it usually was just a week or two ago.  Now, I do recall that every year about this time the temperature does start to rise, but my Mexican friends, who have much more experience with the changing seasons here, are also commenting that it seems unusually warm for this early in the year.

Why should I be surprised with this sign of unusual weather these days – during a week that we have seen devastating Tornados in record numbers cut a swath through hundreds of miles of the south eastern US – weather all over is changing.  By contrast, back in western Canada they are having an unseasonably cold spring (it snowed again this past week) and the west coast has had record breaking amounts of rain.  Given the extreme weather that seems to becoming the norm elsewhere, this warming trend in the southern Baja is a relatively benign development – so far.

This past week has been unusual because of a number of other events as well.  Although I live a long way from ice and snow, I am still a Hockey fan, particularly at this time of year during the playoffs, even if my “Hometown” Flames failed to make it AGAIN this year.  So I have been watching a number of the first round series, mainly the Vancouver Canucks, who managed to squeeze into the second round this week, after an overtime win in the seventh and final game of their first series.

Added to that, Canada is in the final days of yet another Federal Election, which has gone from what began as a rather sleepy campaign a month ago, to what is developing into a potential sea-change shift of power that could have historic consequences.  Being a bit of a political “junkie”, I have been following these developments closely, monitoring daily news about shifting polls and the speculation about how these quickly developing trends could play out.

While I don’t want to turn this into political Blog, it is worth noting how my perspective is changed by viewing these developments from 4,000 km away.  I find the very real drama unfolding back in Canada to be a refreshing change from the US media’s coverage of the continuous games of political tag that have been dominating the news coming from there.  By comparison, Canada appears to be poised for a major shift in the balance of power between the two traditional governing parties, Conservatives and Liberals, with the further left New Democratic Party moving into a strong second place position for the first time in their 50 year history.

But, rather than seeing this development, which is counter to what my personal position was on the political spectrum, as something that could affect me in my day to day life, viewed from here in Mexico, it takes on the aspect more of political theatre – dare I say, reality television!  While I am interested in the day to day developments and the soon to unfold story (the election is this coming Monday May 2nd) it is now very much at “arms length”, tempered by the perspective that comes from distance.  What happens in Canada, while it does not necessarily STAY in Canada, has limited impact on events in the rest of the world, which is perhaps unfortunate, given the state of affairs elsewhere!

In addition to Hockey and Politics the other “big” event this week was, of course, the Royal Wedding.  While this was certainly a significant celebration, shared by an estimated 2 Billion viewers worldwide, I was struck by how little impact there was here among Mexicans.  While Canada’s historic ties to Great Britain and the country’s senior position in the Commonwealth guarantees a high profile and level of interest in the marriage of the future King, and therefore our Head of State, there are no such connections or traditions with Great Britain here.

Viewing the pomp and pageantry (which the English Monarchy does better than anyone, anywhere else in the world) from a small peaceful corner of the Baja Peninsula, brings into sharp focus the vast cultural and historic differences between my adopted home here, and where I spent most of my life.  And, in spite of the interest I have in these events half a world away, in the context of where I choose to live now, the high drama that developed about “The Dress” and “The Kiss” seemed even further away than the physical distance.

By comparison, the big event this week here in the Loreto area was “Loretofest” – the annual gathering of “Yachties” who come from all over the Sea of Cortez to converge on Puerto Escondido, the vast natural harbour 20 km south of here.  Dozens of boats, large and small, join the resident “live aboard” community, many of whom make this their year-round home.  We “landlubbers” who live in the area are welcomed to join in on the festivities, last night I enjoyed an open-air concert on the recently refurbished Harbour front, and the weekend has been scheduled with a variety of events and activities including seminars, casual sports, silent auction and communal meals.

 This opportunity to share a little of this transient sub-culture and it’s alternate lifestyle is a strong reminder that there are many versions and opportunities for finding a rewarding way of life here and enjoying the benefits, as well as the limitations of “Living Loreto”.