Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dos Noches en Loreto

With the beginning of the season and more people arriving every day, this has been an eventful week here in Loreto Bay and in town itself.  Earlier this week Homex, the new Developer who is building homes on the north end of the existing Loreto Bay community, hosted a “Welcome Back” evening at the INN, (which has been recently renamed Loreto Baja Golf Resort & Spa) for over 150 Homeowners.
For many of the recent arrivals, this was the first opportunity this season to meet and greet neighbors and friends and so it was a lively and convivial affair. (I confess that I forgot to take my ever-ready camera with me to the party and so I am unable to share a few pictures here with you – my apologies!)  Although Homex hosted the event, they did collect donations for the Loreto Bay Volunteer Group that was formed last season and is becoming more active and involved in a variety of good causes and projects mainly focused on the town.

As people arrived they mingled and visited at tables for eight set up in the Dining Room and on the adjoining Patio area, around which were about a half dozen small booths stocked with Mexican arts and crafts which was a colorful and interesting way to support some local businesses and create some more atmosphere for the evening.  After cocktails, the buffet was opened and there was an excellent choice of traditional Mexican foods, which impressed me both in the variety and quality – particularly serving a group that size.
Following the meal there was a brief presentation by Justin, from Las Villas de Mexico which is marketing name for the Homex development, and he stressed their good will toward the existing community here and a little about their plans for the coming season.  This was followed by a couple of brief videos, one about their project and another Justin had taken during the recent near Hurricane.  As “Baja Midnight” approached (FYI that’s any time after 9:30 in the evening here) the crowd started to break up, with a number of them making it no further than the Wine Bar across the street where the party continued long past when I left – possibly through to ACTUAL midnight!  My how far we have come here in the past couple of years – an actual nightlife with places to go is now possible!
This Loreto Bay event was followed on Friday night by an even bigger one in town, "La noche de la Conquista" was a celebration of the 315th anniversary of the arrival of Italian Jesuits on October 25th, 1697.  Along with a number of other events this week members of the local restaurant association sold out 300 tickets for a dinner that was held in the Plaza in front of the historic Mission building in the center of town. 
Fifteen of the local restaurants each had a booth featuring a specialty including suckling pig, baby goat, clams, several different skewer combinations, to name just a few - all of which made for a cornucopia of different flavors from the familiar to the exotic.  After sorting out which line was for exchanging tickets for a wristband and which was the line for purchasing wine, people found seats at the many tables filling the Plaza and then began the delightful process of visiting one booth after another collecting samples of the many different foods being offered.
When I first arrived at the Plaza I met Norma, one of the organizers of this big event and a partner with her husband in “1697”, a popular restaurant in town (and just recently they have opened a small lunchtime bar and restaurant in Loreto Bay, but more about that in a future Blog), but at first I didn’t recognize her.  In a creative move, considering the anniversary theme of the event, all of the people from the various restaurants working at this event were wearing Monk and Nun’s robes – perhaps they won’t have to look too far for a Halloween costume this year!
From Norma I learned that from the 350 peso tickets (less than $30 US) each of the participating restaurants received a “token” payment that was intended to cover most of their costs for the food being served and a substantial donation was being made on their behalf to the Disabled Children’s Shelter in Loreto. 
While I was lined up for my wristband I was fascinated by some preparations underway nearby – a bare-chested man wearing a sort of wrap skirt was spreading fine gravel in large round shallow pan that stood on a low tripod.  When I passed by again later he was carefully arranging dozens and dozens of “Chocolata” clams (a local delicacy) on top of the gravel.  He then covered this mass of clam shells with more gravel.  After darkness fell, the pan, now filled with layers of gravel and clams, was heaped with a big pile of tinder dry brush which was then ignited, creating a pretty impressive version of a towering inferno! 
As it turns out, this is a unique local traditional method to cook the clams in their shells and this demonstration added a colorful and dramatic (and tasty) highlight (sorry about that) to this evening celebrating an historic anniversary and the variety and quality of local dining options that we are lucky enough to enjoy here.
Several musicians provided some great musical entertainment through the evening from a small stage at one end of the Plaza, which made an impressive sight, with hundreds of people at dozens of tables stretching almost a block in front of the beautiful Mission.  The building is the centerpiece of this historic town and it was the first Jesuit Mission in the Baja and, for almost a century and a half, was the “headquarters” for a string of Missions the stretched all the way from here to what is now Northern California.
As I made my way back to Loreto Bay that evening, I reflected on the two very different events I had enjoyed this week.  Our “family” party here in Loreto Bay, kicking off a new season with a promise of it being the best one in our short history here and all of the enthusiasm of people reconnecting within our community.  And then “La Noche” where again many Loreto Bay residents joined with the larger community in town to enjoy great food and entertainment, while celebrating over three centuries of history in this magical place.  But both of these occasions share something in common – they are both part of “Living Loreto”!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Close Encounter with Paul - and a Celebration for the Environment

Somebody once said “Be careful what you wish for” and this week we almost had a visitor to Loreto that would have likely proved the truth in that saying, because for some time I have secretly wanted to be here in the Baja during an “extreme weather event”.

Hurricane Paul had been brewing in the Eastern Pacific since last weekend and made landfall Tuesday on the west coast of the peninsula about halfway between Loreto and Cabo San Lucas as a Category 1 storm.  Here in Loreto we had steady rain all day Monday, through the night, and most of the day Tuesday, with gusting winds and “bands” of heavier rain increasing in frequency through the morning, peaking between noon and around 3:00 pm when apparently Paul veered west back into the Pacific and the storm intensity gradually decreased through the rest of the afternoon and early evening.

Because this storm was approaching from the west, there was significantly more rainfall further west from where we are located here on the east coast of the peninsula, and a lot of that rain fell in the Sierra de la Gigante mountain range. The runoff from this rain collected in the arroyos that channeled it to the Sea of Cortez here on the coast and so we experienced a much more serious flooding impact than would have been the case normally from the approximately 4 inches of rain that fell here locally. 

This accumulated runoff caused some washouts and bridge damage in a number of places on the highway north and south of here and the road to town was under water in several places Tuesday afternoon.  In Loreto itself, the usually dry arroyo that splits the town and borders the location of the Sunday Market, was turned into a thunderous flood that almost crested the levies protecting the town.  (Check out this brief video clip taken at the height of the storm that appeared on youtube the next day!)

While here in Loreto Bay we were not affected so dramatically, flooded streets and a number of trees and large shrubs blown over during the storm, although I think most of these had been planted recently and had not yet established their roots.  However, many homes in the development had varying amounts of water “incursions”, due in most cases I expect, to the fact that the exterior of the homes have become almost saturated from the record making accumulation of rain this Fall.  

In my home I had several pots and pans strategically placed to catch some steady drips and there were a few damp spots on walls and ceilings – nothing serious thankfully, but unusual all the same, given that it has been almost 3 years since we have had significant amounts of rainfall here. 

All’s well that ends well and we’ll chalk up Paul to a near miss – but I now have a better appreciation of the potential impact of this class of storm.  Given the earlier projections that Paul would be at his closest approach to Loreto around 8:00 pm, and the volumes of wind and rain that we were experiencing mid-afternoon, it is sobering to consider what conditions would have been like if things had got progressively worse over another 4 or 5 hours with considerably more rain and stronger winds!

As it was, after a day or so to allow the accumulated water to drain and evaporate, things around here quickly returned to seasonal normal (i.e. perfect!) but the long term legacy of Paul will be months of repair and reconstruction on the bridges and roadways that were damaged during the storm.  I have written before about the major infrastructure improvements that have been undertaken on the Highway connecting Tijuana and Los Cabos over the past 4 or 5 years, mainly the completion of many new bridges over the arroyos that channel flood waters during these infrequent major storms.  But the events this week are a reminder of how quickly years of work and millions of pesos can be wiped out by a sudden deluge of water.  The good news is the road was reopened with detours around the damaged spots within a day or two and the north/south traffic flow was getting back to normal.

At the end of this week there was a special event held at La Mission Hotel in town, the Fifth Anniversary fundraising dinner for Eco-Alianza de Loreto, a local environmental advocacy group,   to support Environmental Education programs for Loreto youth.  This was quite a gala affair, by Loreto standards, tickets for the evening (which included a donation for the group) sold out in advance and there was an extensive silent auction, raffle tickets for a return trip for two between LAX and Loreto courtesy of Alaska Airlines and the evening concluded with a live auction of some spectacular experiences contributed by local supporters of this active organization.

I joined several other Homeowners and we headed into town to the beautiful La Mision property located on the Malecon waterfront in Loreto.  The Malecon has been undergoing a major upgrade including utilities and paving this year and while this work is still ongoing along most of length of the street, fortunately it has been completed in front of the Hotel improving access for the large crowd that had already arrived before we got there (after finding the last parking spot nearby, due to all the construction).

The event was held on the mezzanine level where the Dining Room and Lounge form a “horseshoe” around the atrium of the main floor lobby.  Large dining tables filled the regular restaurant area and Lounge and two adjoining balcony patios where there was outdoor seating on what was a perfect calm and balmy evening, like so many we enjoy here during the “winter” season.

This entire mezzanine area was crowded with what must have been a couple of hundred Guests mingling and socializing over drinks for a couple of hours before the dinner, many of whom had just recently returned from spending the summer in the north and were catching up with their friends and acquaintances.  I was impressed with the extent and quality of the many silent auction items, most of which attracted multiple bids during the course of the evening.  There were arts and crafts, jewelry, décor items, among many other unique and interesting items.

When the meal was served, the restaurant staff of the Hotel did an impressive job of handling this capacity crowd and the Caesar salad, followed by chicken cordon blue with creamy mashed potatoes and garnish of freshly sautéed vegetables and desert was well presented and tasted delicious.  After the meal there was a lively auction of several exceptional “prizes” including an outing on a 52’ yacht, an air tour of the area surrounding Loreto in a private plane, and a two night get-away for up to 6 couples at a private oceanfront mansion that was a Spanish Marquesa´s former residence, amongst other once in a lifetime experiences.

I encourage you to learn more about the extensive programs undertaken by Eco-Alianza, their very professional website can be found at: and be sure to check out the impressive photo gallery you will find there, along with detailed information about the work they do in and around Loreto, protecting the pristine and beautiful surroundings that have lured so many of us here!  And if you were unable to support these good works by attending the Fifth Anniversary Gala, you can always make your contribution on line through the website.

So this week I saw the awesome potential power of nature with the near-miss of Hurricane Paul and how our environment can be so impacted over a brief 48 hour period.  And then I participated in an impressive fundraising celebration that our community contributed generously to, supporting the good works of one of the most important local organizations dedicated to preserving and protecting that same environment – a fitting conclusion to a memorable week, when you are “Living Loreto”.    

Sunday, October 14, 2012

In the swim - Picazon to Coronado II

Returning to live in Loreto means the beginning of a new season of anniversaries – this week it was the Second Annual Picazon Coronado Swim Crossing, (I posted on the inaugural event “Water, water everywhere . . .  Oct. 23, 2011).  Since last year’s event I have learned that there is a “cult” interest in this sort of open water swim competition, which is supported by the dramatic increase in participation in this year’s event.

Last year there were 26 swimmers who took part in the 5.5 km swim from La Picazon Restaurant across the channel to Coronado Island.  This year there were 132 swimmers and a correspondingly larger support crew including 36 kayaks escorting the swimmers, 5 pangas circulating between the shore and the island providing return transportation as well as several other official boats supervising safety and other concerns with such a large group.

I left Loreto Bay after 7:30 in the morning to drive to the event, understanding that the swim was to begin at 8:30.  By 8:00 I was getting close to La Picazon restaurant, which is about 8 km north of town but, due to the limited parking available along the primitive road, I was stopped behind several other cars about half a mile away so I just pulled off the road into a space between cacti and walked from there.

Upon arriving at La Picazon I realized that the swim had already started at 8:00, half an hour earlier than had been publicized and I could just make out the kayaks and some of the closest swimmers already a couple of hundred yards from shore.  Along with more swimmers there were more friends, family and supporters than last year and I joined about 50 observers on the beach under shade tents to enjoy the view.

While the conditions for last year’s swim were almost dead calm, this year there was a strong 20 knot breeze from the northeast and strong swells of 3-5 feet making for a much more challenging open water experience.  There were other changes from last year, several fluorescent flag buoys had been placed across the channel marking the course and as I mentioned before many more kayaks in the water supporting the swimmers.

It was expected that the fastest swimmers would finish the crossing in about an hour and a half and the rest would finish within an hour or so of that time.  About 11:30 the first panga full of swimmers arrived back on shore from Coronado and several of these open fishing boats continued to shuttle back and forth for over an hour bring the participants back.

As a “determined” non-swimmer myself, I remain in awe of the stamina and determination (let alone buoyancy!) that is required to complete such a challenging open water distance swim, and this year again, I was struck by the age range – from 11 to over 70 years, and over half of the swimmers were women.  But one of the big differences this year was the surprisingly small number from in and around Loreto itself, with more than half of the swimmers from the Mainland, mainly around Mexico City, another 20% from La Paz and other places in the Baja, a smaller number from the US, and two participants came from as far away as Venezuela and Easter Island – an indication of the popularity of this endurance sport drawing people to Loreto from those distances!  As the word-of-mouth and popularity of this event grows, it is bringing more people to visit our chosen paradise and spreads the good word about Loreto further and further!

However, combining the windy rough conditions and over a hundred more swimmers than last year, made managing the event much more challenging for the organizing volunteers.  An example I found out about after the event was that one swimmer had not been accounted for arriving at Coronado, which caused an extensive search for her to be launched, which had almost escalated to a full air/sea operation when she was finally located, safe and sound, on an isolated beach on the far side of the Island – a thankfully happy ending that highlights the inherent risks involved in this sport.

Talking to people before and during the event, and given the almost fivefold increase from the first year’s participation, I can see this continuing to grow and attract people to Loreto from even further afield (awash?) in the years to come.  With the initial success of the first two years now history, there is a great opportunity for this to become a signature event for this area – highlighting the natural beauty of the area and the pristine environment we are so lucky to live within.   

After enjoying some of Picazon’s delicious food (a fresh shrimp wrap, yumm!) from the abbreviated menu they had prepared for the over 200 people in attendance, and chatting with a number of friends and familiar faces from town and Loreto Bay, I had to leave by early afternoon, before the awards ceremony began with the presentation of medals and acknowledgements, in part to compose these words for your enjoyment.

Returning to La Picazon reminded me why this is one of my favorite places here, not just because of the spectacular beauty of the location, miles from the next closest habitation, and the Sea of Cortez just a few feet from the open air dining and the view of Ilsa Coranado in the distance, not just because of the delicious ocean-fresh seafood they serve during the long indulgent afternoons I have spent there – but, in addition to that – the warm and genuine hospitality of Imelda and Alejandro the charming proprietors of this special spot!  I truly believe no visit to Loreto is complete without a meal to celebrate at La Picazon!

Sharing a beautiful day on the Beach with over 200 visitors, some travelling thousands of kilometers for the chance to spend a few days here, is a great way to remind myself of how fortunate I am to be able to be “Living Loreto”!

(P.S. If you are amphibious and feel like adding the Picazon Coronado Swim to your bucket list, visit the website and bookmark it to watch for information on next year’s swim!)         

Sunday, October 7, 2012

And so Season Five begins!

Greetings to all my loyal Readers, thank you for returning to these pages for my take on Living Loreto!  I confess that I have actually been back here in Loreto for a couple of weeks, unpacking, getting settled again in my home and taking care of some typical maintenance issues after the long hot summer.

While there are a few hardy souls amongst the ex-pat Homeowners who live here year-round, most of the winter season residents have yet to arrive here and so Loreto Bay feels strangely unpopulated, except of course for the various employees and staff that work here.  And there has been considerable good work going on since I left here in May.
The most obvious change that has taken place during the summer is the stone paving on the east side of the Paseo, (or main street) through the Founders Neighborhood of our community.  These stone pathways had been substantially finished throughout most of the first phase of Loreto Bay for several years, except for the one side of the Paseo and this work to complete the sidewalk was to be funded under the Infrastructure Special Assessment that our Homeowners Association voted for at our last series of AGMs.  Work had already begun earlier in the year on paving sidewalks through most of Agua Viva, the second phase of the Development.
Also, as part of the paving project, street lighting has been incorporated with “cute” knee-high light standards to focus the light on the pavement and reduce the amount of light pollution.  I understand that we are just waiting for a final inspection before the lights can be connected to a meter and start lighting our main street – an important development in both safety and beautifying the community.

In addition to the paving being done in Agua Viva, work is also well underway there on the second Community Pool, which is being fast-tracked under the same Infrastructure program, as a result of a special no interest loan by a number of AV Homeowners.  So in many ways work has continued here in Loreto Bay through the hot summer months and I am sure that the returning Homeowners will all appreciate each of the improvements that have been made to the development since they were last here.

Aside from these man-made improvements, Mother Nature has also been busy here in the Baja during the last month – I am of course referring to the abnormal amount of rain that has fallen here recently.  Early in September there were several major rainfalls resulting from Tropical Storms affecting the surrounding areas with total accumulations of over a foot!  The second week I was here two other Tropical Storms in the area resulted in another 4 inches of rain over 3 or 4 days.  For a semi-arid climate that is the norm here these sorts of accumulations are very unusual and this is the most rain to fall here since hurricane Jimena over 3 years ago.

My first impressions of the impact of the rain began shortly after I passed through the border at Tijuana to begin my drive south to Loreto (a thankfully uneventful crossing, for those of you who remember the story of the secondary inspection that I was caught in about a year ago, entering Mexico with the usual “full load”).  While the climate and typography of northern Baja is very different than here in the south, even so, I was struck by the unusual greenness of the countryside that far north.  The impact of the rain became more noticeable the further south I drove, the rolling hills, studded with cacti, now are also carpeted with lush green grasses and normally leafless trees, standing gaunt with dry branches were now covered in fresh green foliage. 

After an early crossing by 7:30 at Tijuana, I had one of the smoothest trips south in the 8 years I have been travelling Mexico 1.  I prefer to do most of the travelling on Sundays, as there is less traffic than other days, and since the Sunday I travelled from TJ to Guerrero Negro happened to be Independence Day, there was even less traffic than normal.  Although I did see marching bands in Ensenada and a huge market with mucho caballeros in Mission San Vincente a little further south.  There were also two multi-kilometer construction zones, one south of Ensenada and another further south on the second day, but nothing serious and the road has benefitted from the completion of some of the big projects that have been underway for several years.
But by far the most surprising – dare I say shocking – sight on my drive south was standing water in ditches and ponds by the side of the road and, for the first time in my experience of driving this highway for over 8 years, there was water in 4 or 5 Vados, which are dips in the road where dry stream beds can flood across the highway during rains.  I remember the surprise I felt the first time I crested a small hill and descended the other side into . . . WATER!
Perfectly reasonable under the circumstances, I knew there had been a lot of rain and these Vados were one way the road had been designed to deal with occasional flood conditions, but in my many trips back and forth over this road there had never been enough rain to have covered the road at these low points - so that I had to rethink the connection between the existence of these Vados and the possibility that some of them could now actually being flooded with water.
Another effect of this much precipitation is the presence of butterflies and moths – millions of them!  For a couple of weeks after the initial rains earlier in the month I read reports from here about “clouds” of delicate yellow butterflies in and around Loreto.  Although I noticed that there were still a few in existence when I was driving back a few weeks ago, within days of the recent rains I started noticing a new influx of these delicate creatures that seem to spring from nowhere. 

On the topic of seasonal creatures, for the past several years, when I have returned here around the end of September, I have seen a spectacular type of large brownish/black moth, some of them with over 6” wingspans.  In the past, at this time of year, these dramatic, but harmless moths occasionally found their way inside my house where they might hang around for a few days before eventually escaping, otherwise I would find them deceased on the floor.

However, this year, I expect because of the amount of rains we’ve had, these black moths are everywhere in large numbers, including inside my house.  Over the past couple of weeks I have become somewhat used to sharing my space with several of these specimens.  Most of the time they will cling immobile to the walls or ceiling, occasionally fluttering about the room, and sometimes colliding (apparently harmlessly) with a ceiling fan, but one morning in particular was memorable.  When I went into the kitchen I happened to look up into the brick cupola in the ceiling and counted over two dozen large black moths clustered there!  In spite of feeling like I was in some Hitchcockian thriller, I managed to go about my normal morning routine, although I had the feeling I was being watched!
On my frequent visits to town, restocking the kitchen and getting back into the local routine of “hunting and gathering” I have noticed a few small changes in the business life of Loreto – but my main impression is how it feels quieter than a typical day during the height of the Season.  Talking to a few shop owners they tell me that it has been a slow summer and they are looking forward to the influx of winter residents who will arrive with the cooler weather later this month.

And so begins a new season here in Loreto, with the freshly invigorated surroundings lush and green from the rain, steady progress on the infrastructure of our community and the town ready to welcome back the ex-pats for another winter, all appears to be ready.  With the promise of more availability and choice in Airlift options this winter I am looking forward to the best Season so far in Loreto Bay and that is perhaps the best part of “Living Loreto”!