Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Wishes - Ho Ho Hola!

This Holiday Season finds me in a more traditional Christmas setting than my home in Loreto – I am visiting family back in Canada with all the trimmings; snow, cold weather, shopping malls aglow with decorations and shoulder to shoulder with shoppers carrying armloads of presents for the “Big Day”.

I left Loreto Bay at 7:30 in the morning, on an untypical overcast day and drove the 5 ½ hours south through La Paz to San Jose del Cabo by way of the east coast Mexico #1 highway, arriving at the International Airport at 1:00 pm.  The parking lot at Terminal 2 is being redesigned, apparently to better accommodate the numbers of busses and tourist vans that all but block the access road at the entrance to the building.  But after circling the lot I found that during this construction the temporary entrance is now through the exit gate, and I was eventually able to park where I had planned.

The check-in for my direct flight back to Calgary went smoothly, including the now routine trip back outside the Terminal and around the building to an inconspicuous rear door where my passport was checked and I was able to re-enter the building into the secure customs area where my FM2 visa was checked and my exit document stamped by an Immigration Officer.  This procedure is not required for the majority of departing passengers who entered on a FMM or Tourist visa, but since I have a resident visa and my trip originated in Mexico, I have become familiar with this somewhat round-about process.

With my documents now stamped I returned to the check-in podium and exchanged half of the form for my boarding pass, the other half I will hold until I arrive on the return trip.  Then I made my way upstairs, through security and into the food and shopping court that surrounds the departure lounge.  After a quick lunch my flight boarded about a half hour late and finally we were off by about 3:30 in the afternoon.

Not surprisingly, considering the windy weather we have been experiencing in the Baja recently, we had a considerable tail wind for the first half of the flight, and made up the half hour delay by the time we arrived at the Calgary Airport about 7:30 that evening – twelve hours after I left Loreto Bay.  A quick pass through Immigration and Customs, and with my bag one of the first off the carousel, I was outside waiting for my ride by 8:00 pm.  In minus 15 degree Celsius, or about 5 degrees Fahrenheit weather with a stiff wind – Welcome Back to Canada!     

Weather aside, it is a fitting time of year to spend time with family and friends and share the traditions of the season, and it helps to do so in the knowledge that I will be back in the gentle climate of my Baja home in a couple of weeks.

Since this is called “Living Loreto” I will not resume my postings until the New Year when I plan to relate my return trip, which will include travelling the last leg from the San Jose Airport back to Loreto by a small regional air service that recently began service from the International Airport.

So as my last posting before the New Year I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, and all my readers, for your continued and growing support, as evidenced by the number of hits I receive on this site.  I confess to having become somewhat obsessed by tracking these numbers from week to week (you too can follow the total number of visitors on the counter that appears at the very bottom of the screen when you page down through the recent posts). 

I am humbled that these hits have increased by about 50% in the past year and now average 100 per day, with over 65,000 visits since I started writing this Blog a little over three years ago.  You, the Readers, have given me this opportunity to record and share with others the experiences and people that have made this such a memorable time for me.  And so, at this time of the year for reflection and giving thanks – let me thank you for your interest and support - and I look forward to continuing to share with you “Living Loreto”!

Season’s Greetings and my Best Wishes for the New Year!  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meeting El Presidenté – Mayor Avilés

This week marked another first in my experiences here in Loreto.  In the past I have made several brief references to local and regional politics (“Sports, Politics and Paving”, Feb. 2011) but, generally speaking, I have avoided commenting on that aspect of life here, for two main reasons; firstly, I do not feel qualified to express opinions, due in part to the second reason, as a guest in this country I have no say in the electoral process - which makes the event I am writing about this week all the more noteworthy.

The Mayor, Jorge Avilés (or El Presidenté) of Loreto, who was elected earlier this year, met with members of the expatriate community of Loreto for an informal talk followed by a question and answer session – something that has never happened before in the 6 years I have been here – and as far as I can tell, is unprecedented in Loreto!  Word of this event was circulated on Lynn Hamman’s bulletin board (which I described earlier “Lynn Hamman – In the Know in Loreto”, Oct. 2011):

 Expatriates, come meet informally with the Mayor of Loreto!

You are Cordially Invited to a Special Reception and Exchange for All Members of the Expatriate Community in Loreto, with Loreto's Mayor, Jorge Avilés, December 7, 2011, 5:00 P.M., at the Casa Blanca, across the street from La Palapa Restaurant. There will be complimentary beer, soft drinks, and appetizers. Loreto's Mayor will give a brief talk, and then meet informally with all, and field questions, in an effort to reach out and strengthen the vital link between Loreto's Municipal Leadership and our expat community.

And so, not knowing quite what to expect, I made plans to attend the reception with some other Loreto Bay Homeowners. 

The event was being hosted by Tom Woodard, a local entrepreneur with real estate investments in and around Loreto, at one of his properties in town with a large open second floor space that was ideally suited for such a meeting.  We arrived just before 5:00 and there were a couple of dozen people already there, enjoying a snack and drink and visiting among themselves. 

It is worth noting that the community where I live, in Loreto Bay, is quite separate, (both physically, 15 km south of the town, and socially) from the ex-pat community that is mainly centered in town, some of the members of which have made Loreto their home for over 20 years.  Having said that, there are steadily more connections being forged between these communities on many individual levels, as people meet and share interests together, as well as on larger scales, like the recent Paella Competition and Gourmet Luncheon (“Paella and Homecoming” Nov. 2011), shared events that bring people from both communities together.

From that perspective, the majority of people arriving at this reception were “Townies”, people who live in and around Loreto, with possibly 10 – 15% of the well over 100 people who eventually assembled, coming from Loreto Bay.  Most of those had arrived by the time that the Mayor, accompanied by more than half a dozen others, made his entrance.  He was greeted warmly by Tom, the Host of the event, who is completely fluent in Spanish, and then quickly the socializing of those in attendance was interrupted with a request for people to take a seat so that the evening could begin.

Mayor Avilés began by saying that the purpose of the meeting was not political or to discuss “contentious” issues, rather, his core message to us was one of inclusion.  He made it clear that his position as Mayor, and that of his administration, was that we, the ex-pat community, were considered as equals with all the other residents of Loreto.  Although we had no voice in the electoral process, his undertaking to us was that he wanted to “reach out” to us and assure us that we were recognized by the local government – not just in word, but in deed.

 Wow!  While I had expected that this would be some sort of a public relations exercise, Mayor Avilés had, in these opening remarks, made the most affirmative statement I had heard from any official during my time here in Loreto!  I did my best to make some notes of his comments as they progressed, however the communications were complicated by the translation that was handled by a couple of the staff and advisors that had accompanied him to this meeting. 

On that point, I thought his comments were also interesting.  The officials that accompanied him, whose names I unfortunately was not able to record, included the Director of Municipal Development, the Municipal Union Representative, the Tourism Director, the Mayor’s General Secretary, several Councilmen and the Head of the Water Department.  And while they did not take an active role in the presentation, I came to the conclusion that the significance of their presence was twofold; to underline to us the importance in which this meeting was held by the Mayor (that he wanted this group of his senior administration to be in attendance) and further, I think that it was a clear signal to THEM of the level of importance he gave this meeting with US. 

Some of the highlights of what Sr. Avilés said included that his government would be different from the past administration (which had a rather notorious reputation, which I will not dwell on) and indeed, a large part of his focus during the first six months since the election had been devoted to recovering from the bad situations that he had inherited from his predecessor. He also stressed that we, as ex-pats, should consider ourselves equal to locals as far as his administration was concerned, and to that end he was appointing a bilingual representative specifically to address concerns within our community.

He also acknowledged several issues of importance including increases in property taxes, and new appraisals for tax purposes as well as federal charges for boat launches at the marina and increases in water charges.  In his comments he also recognized the substantial contributions that have been made by the ex-pat community toward supporting many charitable causes within the municipality, particularly those benefitting children.

He concluded with remarks that while this was the first such outreach to us, it would be one of many he would be making during his four year term.  One comment that received an enthusiastic (and good natured) response was that he understood, and he had made clear to his staff, the need to respond in a timely and responsible manner to our concerns – to show up, to be realistic in what they promised to do, and to DO IT!

During the Q & A session that followed his presentation, a number of specific issues were raised including a question of particular interest to us in Nopolo and Loreto Bay, concerning the stretch of highway between the town and our development to the south.  The issue of restoring power to the lighting that covers most of that portion of the highway (and has not been working for more than a year) was addressed and he made the undertaking that he was already discussing the situation with Fonatur (the Federal agency whose jurisdiction it was under) and furthermore he stated that his long term goal was the eventual upgrading of this stretch to a four lane road.  (Be still, my pounding heart!) 

My description of this meeting is not intended to be a comprehensive report of all of the issues that came up, but more a reflection of the overall tone and context of a unique, and perhaps in hindsight, historic, outreach by the highest elected local official in this municipality to a small, but representative group that have been previously excluded from any such dialogue.  As to the future, at the end of the meeting, one of the commitments that he made was that there would be more such meetings to come, as well, there would be a flow of information to the English speaking community from the Mayor’s Office, by way of Lynn Hamman’s bulletin board, that I referred to earlier in this piece.

This is yet another reason why I suggest that it is important for any Loreto Bay residents to join her Yahoo group (a link for which is in the posting I mentioned before) so that they can be informed as this type of information becomes available in the future.  It is my hope that when the next opportunity arrives for another meeting with Mayor Avilés and members of the local government, there will be an even greater number of residents participating – and particularly, a larger representation from the Loreto Bay community.

When we have been welcomed, and made to feel a valued part of the local community – for the first time – that brings a new meaning and perspective to Living Loreto!             

Sunday, December 4, 2011

To the Wine Cellar – Salud!

In my postings this Fall I have made several mentions about the new commercial spaces that have opened recently along the Paseo.  One of the first to open, in an anchor location near the south end of the road, at the round-about across from the Inn at Loreto Bay is The Wine Cellar, owned and operated by Will and Cynthia, who are also homeowners here.

For many of us, when we purchased our Loreto Bay home, the fantasy of opening a small business here was part of the dream we may have entertained, more or less seriously, at some point in the process.  I think it would also be fair to say that these sorts of entrepreneurial ideas tended to be more common early on in that process and, and as we came to better understand the complexities and realities of life (particularly business life) here in the Baja, the enthusiasm may have faded for some since then.

But, that has not been the path that Will and Cynthia followed to becoming proprietors of a tasteful and spacious wine and spirits bar in a growing ex-pat community deep in the southern Baja Peninsula.  Having purchased their home here four or five years ago, they both continued to pursue their careers in Los Angeles, where they lived, until this past summer when a change of circumstances in Cynthia’s job presented the possibility of an earlier than expected retirement. 

This led to a conversation in mid-July, where the idea that is now the Wine Cellar had its beginning – that of combining their potential new found freedom with their shared passion for wine-tasting, into a retirement business here in Loreto Bay.  A few short weeks later, in mid-August, the decision was made and Will enthusiastically joined Cynthia’s newly retired status and quickly their plans came together.

These events coincided with a focused effort this summer to rent most of the previously unoccupied commercial spaces along the Paseo that runs through Loreto Bay.  So Will and Cynthia were able to secure this prime location and satisfy a high priority service to the community, that of a Bar to provide a meeting place and social center within our development for the residents and also potentially for patrons from the surrounding Nopolo community and even the town of Loreto itself.

At the beginning of this September Will and Cynthia arrived back in Loreto Bay, this time to stay, and began the work of overseeing the renovations of the approximately 1500 sq. ft. space into the bright and airy environment that is now home to the Wine Cellar.  Approvals were secured to open up the outside wall with two French doors adding light and spaciousness to the previously dark room.  The wall surrounding the front garden space at the entrance was also lowered to a table top height creating an attractive outdoor patio area which overlooks where the main south access road joins the Paseo and provides an ideal location for their guests to observe the comings and goings to and from the development.

Inside there were even more tenant improvements made.  A large central pillar supporting the upper residential floors was incorporated into the corner of the “L-shaped” bar itself, and a small efficient kitchenette was tucked behind the back wall of the bar service area, where a selection of Tapas snacks can be prepared.  Finally two new washrooms were added and the transformation into a bright, inviting and functional space was almost complete.

Comfortable, residential style furnishings were sourced from Gustavo, a familiar vendor here in Loreto Bay, who has opened one of the new furniture stores just down the street, and the walls have been decorated with a number of pieces of original local artwork which will be completed with a commissioned centerpiece work that will be hung shortly.  Several moderately sized TV panels are positioned for viewing from all parts of the room but the Wine Cellar would not be mistaken for a Sports Bar, although often games are discretely playing in the background.

The back section of the space has been shelved to stock a variety of wine themed accessories which should be much sought after for gift giving during the approaching Holiday Season.  Two large wine coolers stand against the back wall, the one for reds kept about 5 degrees above the other storing whites, confirming my own taste for a slightly chilled red (while I don’t know where the standard for “room temperature” red wine originated, I am quite sure that it was not from the climate of the southern Baja!).

Meanwhile a local paralegal and business consultant put in place all the necessary paperwork and approvals to meet the requirements for operating the business here and two staff members were recruited; Urbano as waiter and bar tender, a familiar face who has worked at the INN and elsewhere providing friendly and professional service, and Margarita who prepares the tasty Tapas snacks for the hungry customers.

Will and Cynthia have spent many holidays, going back to University days, travelling the world tasting wines in places as far removed as South Africa, New Zealand and Eastern Europe, and in between these trips they also became somewhat connoisseurs of a social life that included the ambiance of their favourite bars.  In spite of these interests, as I said, the thought of opening their own place, incorporating ideas from their travels and experiences was a new one, when it occurred to them this past summer.

After arriving back in Loreto in early September the hard work of turning that idea into a reality began – and, remarkably, to many who are experienced with the pace of work here, in about a month and a half the Wine Cellar was substantially completed and ready to be tasted by the first Homeowners as they arrived for the season.  Opening at 4:00 pm weekdays and 2:00 on weekends, the Cellar will usually stay open until 10:00 most evenings, but Will and Cynthia are happy to stay open later, if the party is still going on!

In addition to 15 wines available by the glass, they offer a full cocktail bar service with a tasty selection of tapas including a cheese plate, guacamole and spiced olives to compliment the drinks.  But as well as the bar this is also a retail wine boutique with an impressive selection to choose from by the bottle – which is a welcome option for any Homeowner looking for a nice bottle to take to a dinner party or even something special for a restaurant meal, where the local selection  may be limited.  In addition, we now have access to the Cellar’s cellar if we run short of libations during the next dinner party – they will even deliver – how civilized is that!

Already a popular place in the late afternoons, where people can meet and mingle for drinks and conversation, it is also conveniently located at the south entrance to Loreto Bay and makes an ideal place for a nightcap when people return home from evening dinner in town.  Particularly useful for those who have been wisely cautious to consume moderately at dinner, before making the drive at night back to Loreto Bay.  So, when they have made it back safe and sound from their short drive on the highway, there is now the opportunity perhaps for one “off the road” at the end of the evening!

During the course of this season’s Blog postings I look forward to bringing you other stories about some of the new businesses that are adding so much to our community, and so I thought that I would begin with a “toast” to what I am sure will soon become a fixture here in Loreto Bay, The Wine Cellar.  This is a comfortable, convenient and laid back meeting place that fits very well with the developing ambiance that is Loreto Bay, and for many will become another favourite part of “Living Loreto”.