Saturday, November 24, 2012

Flotsam and Jetsam

One of my favorite things to do, especially early in the morning, is to walk the beach from my neighborhood cluster of homes south towards Punta Nopolo, the point of rock that lends it’s name to the district surrounding Loreto Bay.  Unfortunately, one of the side effects of being gainfully employed at my job selling Real Estate here in this community, is that routine and schedules can preclude some of the simple pleasures of living here – so one early morning this week I set out for one of the first sunrise beach walks that I have taken this season.

My motivation this morning was awakening to a clear sky, after several days of unusual overcast – strange to realize how quickly we can take the almost consistently perfect weather here for granted, when it takes a cloudy day to realize what “normal” is really like.  Because overnight and early mornings have cooled off significantly from even a few weeks ago, I pulled on a long sleeved fleece and pants, grabbed my hat and camera and headed out to greet the dawn.

About 250 feet from my front door, past six or seven homes and I am on the sea grass berm that separates the high water line from the eastern edge of the development and my eye is automatically drawn south, to my right, where the sky is beginning to blaze behind Punta Nopolo, an iconic feature of this place that I never tire of photographing every chance I get – which may explain why I chose that image as the title page of this Blog.

As we approach the winter solstice in about a month, the sun now rises at close to it’s southerly extent from behind the rocky outcrop that gives meaning to the historic local description “where the Mountains come to swim”.  Moving into the New Year, sunrise will gradually move north around the horizon and be seen coming from behind the distant Ilsa Carmen, the huge Island that frames the ocean from due east and as far south as we can see from here.

On this morning (and every dawn is unique, albeit in subtle ways) it is approaching a high tide, which while it only fluctuates about a foot, the low tide can stretch the beach 30 to 50 feet wide, due to the very gradual shelf of our bay.  This morning the high water line is marked with a considerable accumulation of flotsam and jetsam that has been washed back ashore following the runoff from Hurricane Paul last month. 

I recall that I had seen, on my first trip to the beach following that storm, numerous stacks of these debris that had been tidied into piles along the beach, but viewing it now, it is apparent that either nothing had been done to remove the piles, and they had once again distributed themselves due to wave action, or else this was additional material that had washed up since the initial onslaught.  But regardless, I took some comfort in the fact the there was very little “man made” litter mixed into the mainly palm husks, uprooted shrubbery, and the occasional palm trunk that had been washed down the arroyos from somewhere up in the Mountains to our west.

Here in Loreto Bay, ours is a “natural” beach, more fine gravel than sand composition in most places and, other than the 100 yards or so in front of the INN, not normally groomed, which improves the beachcombing prospects, with a constantly changing variety of shells and other small treasures from the sea being deposited here for the finding. 

On this morning, I only meet a few fellow beach walkers, a man and his boisterous medium sized dog off leash, later followed by two women escorting on leash their two diminutive, but no less self-possessed specimens, one a white terrier type and a black exotic of some description I am not familiar with.  These encounters remind me once again, that the considerable and privileged dog community here is probably among the most contented of creatures to call Loreto Bay home.  Not to say that their owners do not also enjoy being here – but there are few happier sights than a dog on the beach at sunrise!            

As the sun continues to rise, I can all of a sudden feel the warmth of the day to come in the air – as I reach the southern end of my trek and turn to retrace my footsteps in the soft wet beach.  When my eyes lift from the creamy pulse of the surf, and I see the gilded faces of the beachfront homes stretching around the gentle crescent of Loreto Bay, I flash back to the same view from several years back. 

Not so long ago now, but the changes are dramatic – in just a couple of years the beachfront row of custom homes has progressed from mainly half-finished structures clad in raw concrete and plaster, separated by more undeveloped lots than completed homes.  Now, this morning, the majority of these impressive buildings have been completed into living homes, each unique and distinct in their features, but unified by consistent design guidelines and part of our planned community.

As I wander back to my own familiar cluster that I have called home now for over 6 years, I once again am torn between these two perspectives – how much has happened and how far we have come, in what seems to be both the eternity of my time here and the fleetingly short history since it all began with chalk lines on virgin sand less than 10 years ago.

Perhaps it is to do with the time – the beginning another day, like so many countless others . . . and yet unique like each shell on the beach, but this is a time I find it hard not to be philosophical, to think thoughts that are usually crowded out by the consuming clutter of the everyday.  Perhaps that is what draws me back to the beach at sunrise – when I need to look inside myself, as well as at the awesome display of another sunrise, another blessing of “Living Loreto”!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Glimpse of Loreto's History

Following the last several weeks of socializing, numerous parties and celebrations, when I saw a notice that the Loreto Historical Society was sponsoring a lecture “Loreto, Gateway to Alta California – The Expedition to San Diego, 1769” by a friend of mine, Tom Woodard, I decided to take in the event.

First of all, I was not aware that there WAS a Loreto Historical Society, but I was interested in what Tom would have to say on a topic that I wanted to know more about.  I did have a very basic understanding of the historic role that Loreto had played as the home of the first Jesuit Mission in all of the Baja founded in 1697, and that how from here, over time, there had developed a chain of Missions the length of the peninsula and beyond, into what is now Northern California. 

So I headed into town, one early evening this week, to the Caballo Blanco Bookstore, where the lecture was to take place.  This store is a fixture in downtown Loreto, owned and operated by Alberto and Jennine, long time residents of Loreto, and they cater to a mainly English speaking clientele with a wonderful collection of reading materials in their homey and colorful shop. With big windows overlooking one of the main streets in town, the front room, with it’s thatched roof, is lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves crammed with hundreds and hundreds of new and used paperbacks of every description.

Behind that room is another that is stocked with  more new editions, making up an impressive collection of books on various subjects mainly relating to the Baja in general, and anything to do with Loreto in particular.  Further back in the room are colorful examples of Jenina’s other avocation as an artist in several media, making Caballo Blanco both a literary and artistic focal point for the surrounding community.

On this evening, when I arrived about 20 minutes before the lecture was to start, the front room was filled to capacity with more than 50 still empty chairs.  In the back room half a dozen people were visiting and I was able to browse through the book that the evening´s presentation was based on and learn something more about it from Alberto.  I then made my way to a side room where I spoke with Tom, who was going to be doing the lecture, and got a brief preview of some of the fascinating history described in the book.

Noticing that the chairs were starting to fill up quickly, now that it was getting close to the start time, I made my way back to the back room and bought one of the several copies they had available of the book for myself and then found a seat in what would soon be a standing room only turn out.  In the crowd I was pleased to see a number of familiar faces from Loreto Bay, as well as many more from the ex-pat community in and around Loreto itself.

 Tom began the evening with a brief introduction to the Loreto Historical Society, which is now in it’s formative stages, but has ambitious goals including acquiring Casa de Pedra, a landmark stone building just half a block from where we were sitting, which is one of the oldest private buildings in the town dating back to 1808, and ultimately converting it into a Visitor Center. 

On a more philosophical note, Tom made an eloquent case for the importance of celebrating the unique and historic role that Loreto has played in the development of the Baja and Western North America, and how, by using this history, we can promote and spread the word about Loreto and ultimately attract more visitors to this special place.

Tom then began with a detailed and enthusiastic summary of the book (Gateway to Alta California, the Expedition to San Diego, 1767 by Harry W, Crosby, Sunbelt Publications) which he considers one of the best on the subject of early Loreto and Baja history.  The book is divided into two parts, the beginnings of Loreto and the early presence of Spain in the Baja, followed by the incredible journey from Loreto north the length of the peninsula to Ensenada and beyond to San Diego.

One of the most striking facts that he quoted from the book was the extreme difficulty the early Spanish explorers had just crossing the Sea of Cortez to the Baja from the mainland.  For example, on November 30th, 1767 the first direct representative of the Spanish Government arrived in California (as the Baja was then called) in over 30 years. 

That voyage had first started five months earlier in July from San Blas, a port on the mainland about 300 miles to the south east of San Jose del Cabo, where they eventually made landfall, but this first attempt was turned back after only a few days by storms.  A second attempt at the crossing was made in late August which encountered a chubasco (or violent storm) that forced them back again by the first week of September.  The third (and ultimately successful) attempt set out October 19th and took 40 days to make the crossing.  Although their destination had originally been Loreto, when the expedition finally made it onto dry land on the southeastern tip of the peninsula, they decided to cover the remaining 250+ miles to Loreto overland, which took another 10 to 12 days of hard travel by horseback.

Driven by the agenda of the Spanish Government in New Spain (Mexico) that in turn took it’s orders from the Spanish King, this was the beginning of momentous times in Loreto’s history.  For mainly European geo-political reasons, the Jesuits, who had founded the first Mission here 70 years before, had fallen out of Royal favor in Spain and it was decreed that they were to be replaced with Franciscans. 

Then there was to be a mobilization of all of the meager resources available from the dozen missions that had been established during that time in the southern half of the Baja began and a major expedition was to be planned to travel by land up the peninsula through “terra incognita” all the way to present day San Diego, California, a distance of approximately 450 miles, much of it across the brutally rugged mountainous spine of the peninsula during a seven week period in the spring of 1769.

This meticulously remarkably researched book contains first-hand accounts of this trek, day by day, including detailed maps and even photographs taken by the author, who had remarkably travelled over 600 miles by burro retracing the course of the journey as part of his research for the book.  This 1769 Expedition was a truly epic undertaking at the time, with dozens of men, almost two hundred animals carrying tons of supplies, and a herd of cattle to sustain the company, all travelling hundreds of miles over some of the harshest and most barren territory imaginable. 

Amongst the many challenges, one of the most critical was the search for water en route, and often required the daily of digging water holes in the rocky arroyos to collect what ground water they could find.  This search for water also forced their route to pass through mainly mountainous terrain where scarce water could be found, rather than the more easily traversed coastal area that was more arid.  Progress became easier when they reached Ensenada on the west coast of the peninsula, about 100 miles south of the modern border, and from there the remainder of the journey to San Diego took them just over a week.       

The purpose of this expedition was to lay claim, in the name of the Spanish crown, to what is now California, and elements of this force eventually travelled as far north as San Francisco – truly a monumental endeavor that changed the future course of the history of western North America.  And it all began in what was then a tiny settlement here in Loreto!  No wonder those of us lucky enough to have found this special place and call it home, feel that it is privilege to be “Living Loreto”!   

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Celebration of Light comes to Loreto Bay

This week there another two events I would like to describe for you.  The first was a Community get-together one late afternoon at the Palapa Courtyard that was redeveloped last Season, and that I wrote about the opening of last April (“Community Palapa – the new heart of Loreto Bay”).  As the first event of it’s kind since the opening celebration, it was good to see this beautiful oasis in our midst being used for the purpose it was intended.

It was a very casual affair, people had been encouraged to bring a light snack to share and possibly a chair to sit on, and there were several dozen people in attendance, coming and going between 4 and 6 in the afternoon.  Steve, one of the Beach Dogs, brought a guitar and small amp and microphone to play under the Palapa in what had been billed as an “open mike” – but, as it turned out, he wound up to be the only entertainer, playing some soft background music that was enjoyed by all.

The snacks were tasty, and the surroundings beautiful, contributing to a relaxed occasion for those who attended to visit with friends and neighbors, the majority of whom were from the cluster of homes nearby, but included others from all over the development.  I hope that this idea continues and grows over the season to come –as one of the best parts of living here, for most of us, are these chances to get together informally to enjoy each other’s company.

However, the “main event” this week was the HOA Welcome Party hosted by our HOA Administrator Associa and the staff, headed by Jorge Macias.  Associa is the largest Condominium Management Company in Mexico and with their dedicated staff here in Loreto Bay, they manage all aspects of development and maintenance of our growing Community.  This work includes maintaining kilometers of landscaped pathways and numerous courtyards, trash removal and pest control in the extensive common areas and overseeing our own private security service as well as managing the considerable budget that is involved in a community of this size.

During the past year, one of the biggest undertakings of the HOA has been the administration of a major infrastructure development program that was endorsed by the Homeowners at the last series of annual meetings early this year.  This ambitious project, with a budget of over two million dollars, is being funded by a special assessment to our HOA fees over a two year period and will remediate the shortcomings and deficiencies in basic infrastructure that we as a community “inherited” following the demise of the original Developer almost four years ago.

Work on this project has been progressing ever since the approval of the assessment, and as we approach the mid-way point in the timeline, we are seeing some substantial improvements here in Loreto Bay.  I have mentioned some of these in earlier blogs this season, namely the stone paving of the sidewalk along one side of the Paseo and the installation of street lighting along the main road that runs through the development. 

Lighting has been a significant consideration here since the beginning of the project.  The many pathways that connect the homes leading from the Paseo are lit by fixtures on the individual homes that are controlled automatically by photo-sensitive switches and one of the early initiatives was to install those fixtures so their light was focused downwards to reduce the light pollution and preserve a “dark sky” environment.

However, since the very beginnings of the development, street lighting along the Paseo has been an issue, with long stretches of the divided road in almost utter darkness, posing a significant hazard to walking at night as well as giving an overall impression of neglect.  Therefore, the installation of a new street lighting system was a high priority of the infrastructure project, while maintaining the lowest level of light pollution at night, so as to better enjoy the starry spectacle that is the clear night sky here.

As part of the completion of the sidewalks, new “hip height” lamp posts were installed at regular intervals the length of the Paseo, with the light from energy efficient bulbs focused downwards to the pavement.  Meanwhile, planning was being done for a HOA Welcome Party to launch the new season and to coincide with the upcoming series of Homeowner’s annual meetings when there would be a large number of residents here.

And so it was decided that the new street lighting system would be officially turned on for the first time during the Welcome Party this weekend.  This was going to be a major event in the Loreto Bay Calendar with free beer and tacos, courtesy of the HOA, and of course, there can’t be a party here without the entertainment being provided by our own “Los Beach Dogs”.

As I prepared to head out of my home shortly after 6:00 pm to walk to the south end of the development where the party was being held, I ran down a brief mental check list, camera, monopod, wallet etc. and as I reached out for my flashlight, (a heretofore necessary accessory for any nocturnal journeys in Loreto Bay) I realized that for the first time personal lighting would not be necessary for the return trip home this night.

Arranged along one side of the divided Paseo by the traffic circle, was a long row of plastic chairs facing three food stations each with different taco fillings including mole, salads and aracherra with a choice of corn or flour tortillas, and next to each food table were ice chests where draft beer was being dispensed, and for those who preferred wine, the Wine Cellar had a booth set up where a choice of reds and whites were available.

At the far end of the closed off section of the street, a stage platform was set up and a professional sound system had been hired for the evening with several speakers positioned along the street.  After some opening comments by Jorge, the Associa HOA Manager of Loreto Bay, and an introduction of his key staff members, all of whom are familiar faces to all who live here, with a brief description of their responsibilities in the community, the moment had come – the switch was thrown, and there was LIGHT!

Marching off into the distance, along both sidewalks bordering the Paseo, our new lamp posts, now crowned by shining globes of beautiful LIGHT gleaming as the newest constellation to grace our Community! This was a sight long anticipated by all residents and we were all celebrating an important milestone in the greater development of our Village!

Following this celebration, the Beach Dogs took to the stage and the party began!  With almost 300 residents enjoying the tasty food and drink, and our own home-grown entertainment, with the sense of community that is growing ever stronger as more and more of us spend longer times here, we danced and socialized together into the now not-so-dark night.
 And so on a week that began with a low key get-together at our Community Palapa, and climaxed with the lighting of the Paseo, one of the largest populations of residents to be gathered here at one time officially kicked off this new Season in Loreto Bay and celebrated another step in the fulfillment of the dream that we all share – “Living Loreto”!  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A “Scary” Week in Loreto Bay!

This week I had the opportunity to enjoy celebrating both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos here in Loreto Bay.  Although both traditions have a lot in common, the differences in the way they are practiced are significant.  Halloween in North America, although is seems to be undergoing somewhat of a transition, has traditionally been a largely child centered event, with door to door “Trick or Treating” being the most iconic aspect.

While Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) takes on a more reverential tone, being primarily a day to cherish the memory and honor the dearly departed, and is manifested in the tradition of decorating the grave site of family members.  These decorations are prolific in cemeteries, but at this time of year they also can often be seen on the small roadside shrines (marking the location of fatal accidents that are all too common on the main highway running the length of the peninsula) with the attending families often travelling considerable distances to visit and decorate their relative’s shrine.

On Halloween eve the INN (now called Loreto Baja Golf Resort & Spa) had invited Homeowners to their open air bar on the mezzanine above the lobby for a party.  Although I had RSVP’d earlier in the week, I only made up my mind to actually go after the party had started at 9:00 pm – quickly pulling on the “Lucha Libre” Mexican wrestling mask I had picked up for a Mardi Gras party here last spring, before heading down the INN. 

When I arrived there were a couple of dozen people there from the neighborhood and more than half of them were in costume – not surprising, I guess, considering the fact this was billed as a Halloween Party, but impressive, none the less, if one considers that many of these people would have had to plan ahead when they were packing for their vacation and used precious luggage space (in the current circumstances of charged baggage and enforced weight restrictions) to bring a costume with them.

The party itself was quite a low-key affair, with tables of friends and neighbors mainly visiting among themselves, with a few dancers up on the floor, when the recorded music attracted them, but I enjoyed the break in my normal mid-week routine, and it was fun to spend an evening out and about, even if it was a late night by my Baja standards.

However, the second celebration of the week was a considerably more boisterous affair!  It has been almost a year since El Corazon Coffee Shop opened it’s doors here in Loreto Bay and in that time it has become one of the most popular and busiest businesses on the Paseo.  After closing over the hot and humid summer months, it was re-opened several weeks ago and has picked up right where it left off last season and soon after they spread the word that they were hosting a party to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and welcome back Homeowners returning here for the new season.  As a guarantee of a successful event they had booked our ridiculously popular (albeit well deserved) “House Band” Los Beach Dogs to play for the evening.

With my Office located directly across the street from El Corazon, I had observed the preparations being made during the afternoon before the party, boxes of supplies being unloaded, decorations being hung, and the all important Pacifico Beer truck making an unaccustomed delivery of beer kegs to a coffee shop along with stacks of the ubiquitous plastic rental chairs that here are a sure sign of good times to come!

This evening I opted for a more somber ensemble, leaving the Lucha Libre mask at home and settling on a black shirt and jeans for the occasion then liberally applied insect repellant (we are currently experiencing an influx of mosquitoes due to the recent rains and so “eau de DEET” was going to be the aroma of choice this evening) and headed out a bit before the advertised start time of 7:00 pm. carrying my camera and the essential flashlight for safe nocturnal navigation.  When I arrived the “Dogs” were finishing their set-up and sound check on the small patio area between the cafĂ©’s French doors and the sidewalk of the Paseo where the aforementioned chairs had been arranged in several rows across the front of the shop.

Inside Corazon there was a flurry of last minute preparations being made by the regular staff, whose ranks had been supplemented with more help for this occasion, and about a dozen early birds were perched on chairs and standing around waiting for the festivities to begin. I sensed some mild panic on the part of some of the staff (most of whom were made up in exotic variations of the traditional “skull motif” in the Mexican tradition) who I do not think were expecting people to be arriving earlier than the suggested start time.

But soon enough, the preparations were complete, and when the sale of drink tickets began a line formed quickly out the door and onto the sidewalk as more and more revelers assembled.  At about the same time the “Dogs” began their first set of classic rock, interspersed with some of their own popular compositions and the seats began to fill as people got their drinks and moved back outside to enjoy the entertainment.

The crowd steadily grew and soon there were more people standing in the street behind the seating than there were actually seated and later, between sets, when I went inside to recharge my glass (several times) I discovered a second party occurring simultaneously within.  In addition to a fairly steady line at the ticket counter, there was a second line at the barista counter for light and dark draft beer and wine as well as bags of freshly popped corn.  There were a gaggle of young, mainly Mexican kids, many playing video games on their parent’s cell phones while others watched appropriately themed movies being projected on one wall.  In a place of prominence on one wall was a small shrine that had been set up for the occasion with candles, flowers, special breads and fruits, and apropos – coffee beans.

Periodically during the evening, Corazon staff circulated through the crowd that had grown to well over 200 with big platters of their new house specialty this season, bite sized squares of melt-in-your-mouth Belgian waffles finished with savory toppings including sausage and shrimp – delicious!  Meanwhile, the band played on, through a second substantial set before things started to wind down after 10:00 pm when the music ended and the crowd disassembled – most of whom were just a short walk from their homes.  

And so this “all hallowed” week comes to an end with a fitting juxtaposition of the two cultures traditions – but for whatever differences there are, the good will and harmony that surrounds this special place is evident – and that is what I love most about “Living Loreto”!  
P.S. In somewhat of a departure from my regular format, I am including a small collection of some of the great costumes that were at this party - the least I can do, considering the time and effort these people put into them!  I hope you enjoy -