Sunday, November 24, 2013

Condominium Responsibility - Loreto Style

This is a busy time of year here in Loreto Bay, not only is it the beginning of another Season and the repopulation of the community with the return of the Homeowners who spend the summer months in more temperate climates, but this is the time of year that the AGMs are held for the sub-regimes of our Condominium Association.

As I write this, we are still in the midst of these meetings that will extend over two weeks and probably involve a record number of residents attending in person, as well as those who could not be here represented by proxy.  The condominium structure here is governed by Mexican law and, while similar to Condominiums or Homeowner's Associations in Canada and the US, there are some peculiarities and differences as well.

The community of over 600 homes is managed by a master regime board that is made up of representatives from 12 sub-regimes, 8 in the Founder's Neighborhood and 4 in Agua Viva.  The master regime board is responsible for the management decisions affecting the whole development and their decisions are carried out by Associa, the administrator company that we pay to conduct the day to day business operations and manage the various contractors that provide us with services like security, trash collection and landscape maintenance.

On the sub-regime level there are committees of Homeowners that focus on their own part of the community and deal with issues affecting the smaller neighborhoods where their homes are located.  The HOA fees (that typically range between $200 and $300 US per month for an average home) are divided, with part of the money going to the master regime budget to cover community wide operating expenses, and the balance making up each of the sub-regime's budgets that pay for the expenses associated with their neighborhood.

The original condominium structure was put in place by the Developer, following guidelines prescribed by Mexican law, and in the beginning the Developer handled most of the condominium operations.  As the number of completed homes increased, along with the numbers of Owners and the amount of time they spent here, responsibility for the management of Loreto Bay shifted from the Developer, with the Homeowners taking over more control of their Condominium Regime.

In 2009 following the collapse of the original Developer, there was an almost immediate shift to a wholly autonomous Home Owners Association, which required a much higher level of involvement from the Owners to guide and administer a rapidly growing community.  In those early days of self-management a core group of Homeowners stepped up and took over the responsibility for how the rules and regulations we inherited from the Developer would be applied (and in some cases changed) in the "real world", and shape the community that was still evolving.

We are particularly fortunate to have had a strong pool of volunteers with significant qualifications and expertise, willing to step up and commit to serving this community on a volunteer basis and help to get our Homeowners Association up and running, during those formative early years.  Although there has been some turnover of volunteers at the master and sub-regime levels over the years, there appears to be an greater than normal number of new people getting involved for the first time this year, as more of  the original core group "retire" from these condominium responsibilities.

This too is another aspect of the maturing of our community as people bring new ideas and a fresh enthusiasm to the tasks, which complements the knowledge and experience gained by those HOA volunteers who have preceded them. Through this blending of experience and enthusiasm, Loreto Bay will continue to be a vital and healthy community that should be well prepared for the challenges that will face us in the future.

But it is also a time to appreciate the tremendous progress we have made as a community over the past ten years since the first sales event here - and more particularly over the past five years that we have been self-administered.  And it has been during that time, since most of the home construction was finished, that the greatest progress has been made towards infrastructure completion and the beautification of Loreto Bay.  Along with that progress, comes the community pride that we all share for this place we live, and I believe that this sense of pride is immediately apparent to the guests and visitors who come here for the first time.     

Although it is true in condominium organizations everywhere that a majority of owners benefit from the time and efforts of the few who take on the duties of the board and run things.  That contribution becomes even more critical when the properties concerned are vacation and retirement homes located thousands of kilometers away.  But as more and more Owners visit more frequently and/or spend longer times here, and a new cadre of those Owners step up to the responsibilities that come with condominium ownership, we see the example of a young community like this getting stronger as it grows.   

So although condominium governance is normally perceived to be a fairly dry topic, in our case I believe that it serves as another example of how the community is growing and maturing, largely due to the efforts of the Homeowners ourselves.  While there are some aspects of the vision that many of us bought into (as portrayed by the marketing of the Developer) that will never be part of this community, it is becoming increasingly apparent that what we do have here now, is much more than an artist's rendering or some hypothetical amenities in a sales presentation.  What we have built is more than the bricks and mortar we originally purchased, it has become a community with a heart and soul, populated by friends and neighbors, and creating a synergy that in many ways has already become much more than we were originally promised.      

When a small group of original Homeowners gives guidance in the early days to the management of the community and help us to take control of the sometimes challenging situations we found ourselves in.  And then, when the time comes for a "change of the guards", more Owners step up to replace those who have already contributed their time and efforts - then we have yet another important example of "Living Loreto". 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Milestone Weekend in Loreto Bay

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my life took on a new direction 10 years ago this weekend.  That was when I came to Loreto for the second time, on a charter flight from Canada with a plane load of passengers, who were mainly made up of other prospective Buyers along with staff from the Developer who was launching the first sales event of what would become Loreto Bay.

More about that weekend later, but as I mentioned this was my second visit to Loreto – the first time had been several years earlier when my Travel Agent in Canada suggested an all-inclusive holiday at a newly re-opened resort in the Baja as a last minute alternative to my first choices of destinations in the Caribbean.  Knowing nothing at the time about the Baja, let alone a little place called Loreto, my decision to spend the week between Christmas and New Years here was entirely due to the fact that I had left booking the holiday too late and Loreto was one of the few options available for a beach holiday on one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

The Hotel, which was only adequate at best, was located at the north end of the crescent beach that is now Loreto Bay, and was called Diamond Eden at that time, later renamed Whales Inn, before it was eventually torn down several years ago. I remember that the weather was good (not a high hurdle compared to a Canadian winter), the beach and Sea of Cortez were perfect for relaxing, and I was intrigued by the area around the Hotel (which I later found out was called Nopolo) with its miles of streets, sidewalks, street lights and palm trees – but only a handful of finished homes.  I also enjoyed a couple of visits and meals in the town of Loreto, 15 km north of the Hotel, but my overall impression of the way that the Mountains met the Sea, the dry climate and sun-filled days, left what became a fond and lasting memory.

Lasting, that is, until a Saturday morning years later, when as I was reading the Calgary newspaper over breakfast, and an attractive display ad caught my attention.  Skimming the ad the word Loreto jumped off the page and I started reading the copy again more carefully, as I recalled memories of my trip there years earlier.  At first, as I read, it was just the coincidence of seeing an advertisement about a rather obscure place I had been to before - but that changed as I read more about the proposed Development to be called the Villages of Loreto Bay.

Jump forward, and two weeks later I was on that charter flight to the first sales event – one of very few of the passengers who had been to Loreto before.  Based on that earlier visit, I was already “sold” on the location, and over the following few days, as I learned about the vision for the development and met many of the people who were eventually to become friends and neighbors, I was satisfied that this place felt right and decided to purchase the “chalk on sand” that would become the place I now call home.

 Ten years later (where does the time go?) here I am, and that vacation spot in the sun has become my home - and this weekend Nellie (my friend and employer at Loreto Bay Homes) organized an anniversary celebration at the Hotel for about 140 friends and clients.  The setting was appropriate as it was at this Hotel that we all stayed as prospective Buyers on the sales event weekends when we came to Loreto to buy our homes here.  While not much has changed in the Hotel itself over the years, a now thriving community has grown up around it and we gathered there again, many of whom were with me on that first weekend ten years ago.

After a welcoming margarita (bringing back more fond memories of our first visit here) people mingled and visited, now among friends and neighbors – no doubt in many cases reminiscing about some of the trials and tribulations we have all shared in the adventure that has been the experience of building and owning a home here in Mexico.  Nellie made a short speech welcoming everyone to the celebration she had organized, saying a few words about what had brought us all together in this place, and her own involvement in building the community, first working for the Developer and then running her own businesses here.

                                                               Then there was a short, but impressive, fashion show featuring ladies garments and accessories, most of them being modeled by Homeowners, all supplied from Agnes Boutique, Loreto Bay’s own clothing and décor shop.  After the fashions the buffet lines opened and we helped ourselves to salads and rice accompanied by chicken, shrimp and beef skewers, followed by a flan desert.  The cash bar was a popular destination and kept the party fueled with wines and beer, in addition to the bottle of Tequila that was on every table which came in handy for the frequent and enthusiastic toasts during the evening.  Entertainment was provided by Herzon and his Café Talega band, a “super group” of local musicians who get together and make great music.    

But this party was not the only event on the tenth anniversary weekend.  I have mentioned in
earlier posts that our beautiful new Community Lap Pool was completed this Fall and Associa, the administrator of our condominium regime, had planned an official opening of this new facility with a relay race among Homeowners on Saturday morning.  Four teams were selected at random by skill levels from among those individuals who wanted to participate, and the competition began at 9:00 am sharp.  Not being much of a swimmer myself (I tend to sink more than float) I was there to observe the start of the event and noticed more than a few of my fellow party-goers as participants – showing impressive fortitude, at least at the beginning of the three hour marathon!     

As the morning passed the decision was made to shorten the time limit to two and a half hours, still a daunting challenge, and as the time ticked down the pressure grew among the teams, shortening the number of laps individuals did until they were doing single 50 meter lengths as the pace picked up.  In the end, one team finished with considerably more laps, the next two were very close and the final team was not far behind – and everyone got a medal!

The celebrations continued later that afternoon when Associa, hosted a Homeowners street party on a section of the Paseo near the south entrance to Loreto Bay.  When I arrived, mesquite fires had been started in two large barbecues and two draft beer kegs were cooling on ice for the hundreds of guests who were congregating as the sun set.  At one end of the blocked off street a stage had been set up for the bands that would entertain during the evening and soon the opening act, a local Loretano band, started to play classic rock and roll.

Soon the delicious aroma of grilling carne de res, marinated thin flank steak, began to waft over the growing crowd.  Once the meat had been seared it was chopped and shredded and then tortillas that had been warmed on the grill were filled with a generous portion of savory beef, garnished with a fresh salsa of tomatoes, onions, cilantro and herbs and perfect street taco was ready to be devoured!  Soon people had formed into a line that snaked past the grills where they loaded up on the tasty food and cold drinks.

As well as selling wine by the glass on the sidewalk at the outdoor party, the Wine Bar was also open and attracted a somewhat quieter crowd, some of whom were looking for a break from the big festivities going on just down the street. 

For those of us who were among the first to buy into the vision that became Loreto Bay, this weekend had a special significance, marking an anniversary that would have been difficult for many of us to have imagined ten years ago.  But what was abundantly clear was that we now share that vision with a community of hundreds of like minded people, and with them we have built a special place that, in spite of the many changes from the original concept, has become something that now exceeds the dreams we started with.  Taking time to appreciate how far we have come, and looking forward with enthusiasm to what lies ahead, that is the best way to celebrate when you are “Living Loreto”!      

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All Hallowed Eve meets the Day of the Dead!

This year I observed different celebrations of the recent Halloween and Day of the Dead occasions which maybe the start of a new synergy blending these two different cultural traditions as they are practiced here in Loreto Bay.

I have written in previous years about how Halloween has been observed here in Loreto Bay – memorably the year we had a costume parade up and down a section of the Paseo where most of the people were in the parade, leaving only a few watching from the curb (  On other years, I when I had neighbors with young children living nearby, I have had a couple of the kids, escorted by their doting parents, call at my door for candy – but at that time occupied houses were few and far between so the pickings were slim for the little trick-or-treaters.

But this year there was a big change in how we celebrated Halloween, and I hope it becomes a new tradition that will continue to build greater connections between us here in Loreto Bay and the surrounding community in and around the town of Loreto.  At least in this part of Mexico, rather than Halloween being primarily a “residential” activity, with kids going from door to door collecting candy in their neighborhoods, the tradition here is mainly for kids to go to stores and businesses in the town for their treats, and not to other homes.  In the days before the 31st the Wine Bar and several of the other business offices along the Paseo announced that they would have treats available for kids and the Wine Bar invited Homeowners to join them for the evening and see the kids in costume that called for treats.

As your intrepid reporter, I felt obliged to cover this event and so after work I settled in at the bar and soon the place was full of people from Loreto Bay enjoying each other’s company and watching different sports on the big screen TVs.  Not long afterwards the first kids arrived – and, consistent with my experience celebrating Halloween in other places, the earlier in the evening, the younger the costumed kids are.  Likewise, with the first arrivals, there were almost as many adults escorting them as there were kids looking for candy.

Although this was not the first year that Will and Cynthia have had Halloween candies available for kids, fortunately this year they had stocked up, apparently anticipating a bigger turn out than in the past – and a good thing they did!  After the first few “toddlers” had been and gone, and it was actually getting dark outside, there began an almost steady stream of costumed kids – gradually increasing in age and size as the night wore on.  Along with this shift the number of “parental escorts” declined and there was a distinctly spooky feeling in the air for a while, as the sidewalks around the traffic circle at the south end of the community became populated with a growing collection of various ghosts, goblins and other things that go “bump” in the night!

While much of this was familiar to me, and anyone else who grew up practicing Halloween in most places in Canada and the US, I was struck by several significant differences as well, with this Baja version of the night.  For instance there is the greeting called out by the kids as they arrive at the door . . . “HALLOWEEN!” which echoed up and down the street . . . short and to the point!  No “Trick or Treat” or (dare I say, with the risk of dating myself) “Halloween Apples”!  Probably this abbreviated call is language based, since the word “Halloween” is pretty universally familiar and “Trick or Treat” is a more complicated concept to express, particularly if you are translating it from a Spanish perspective.        

But the thing that stands out for me most as a memory of that night were the costumes!  First of all, in a town the size of Loreto, fairly isolated in a remote part of the Baja Peninsula, access to “store bought” costumes is almost non-existent.  I did see a small display of a few witches’ hats, some small make-up kits and a few other accessories while grocery shopping the week before in El Pescador, and while I didn’t check out the couple of stores in town that have birthday type gifts for kids, I am sure there wasn’t much more than that available elsewhere in town.

But it was not just the fact that almost all of the costumes that night were home-made out of necessity – what impressed me even more was the quality and detail of the many ones that came calling at the Wine Bar during the evening.  I was reminded of “when I was a boy” back in the ‘60s, when making Halloween costumes from scratch was the norm and there was a healthy sense of costume competition on the streets of my neighborhood on that special night.  But the time and effort that had obviously gone into many of these kid’s costumes was consistently higher than I recall seeing in recent years back in Canada – no “plastic mask (inevitably made in China) with a garbage bag poncho” level of effort here!

On this Halloween we saw many more of the town’s people bringing their costumed children out to Loreto Bay to make their rounds, and from all appearances they appeared to be pleased with their candy “harvest”!    So we may be seeing the beginning of an expansion of the Halloween spirit here in Loreto Bay, fueled by the availability of candy from the many Grandparents (who may be missing young ones where they come from) and while the kid’s incentive is obviously another source of candy, perhaps their Mother’s may be motivated by the costume competition!

To round out the story, I was back at the Wine Bar two nights later for their “Dia de Muertos” celebration with special musical entertainment by the always popular Loretano guitarist Herzon, accompanied by his son on percussion.  This was an occasion for another full house at the Bar and the musicians were channeling the “spirit” of the occasion with their own costumed acknowledgement of the Day of the Dead.  I was feeling a bit “Devilish” myself, and although the traditional look for the “day” is typically more of that of a skeleton, I was moved to express an El Diablo theme for the evening.   

Of course this was an adult affair – no costumed children running around – and the treats were not of the candy variety, but mainly those of alcohol and savory tapas snacks!  But with the haunting sounds of Herzon’s guitar and a happy crowd of Homeowners enjoying that, and each other’s company, we enjoyed a second themed evening at the Wine Bar in 48 hours. 

When Loretanos include us in their celebration of Halloween, and share their children’s excitement (and their own costume handiwork) with us in exchange for a little candy – and we recognize their traditional Day of the Dead, with the help of a local musician – perhaps the blending of these similar but distinct traditions may create a new hybrid event in future years . . . when a harmless celebration of death and the dark side becomes another way of “Living Loreto”!          

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Love and Peace" comes to Loreto Bay

Last week I wrote about a small impromptu get together on the Beach to celebrate a full moon rise, this week I will focus on a party at the other end of the spectrum – a party for hundreds of people with a catered meal, many costumes and two live bands providing the entertainment! 

The event was Agua Viva Management’s “Love & Peace” party, held to help launch the new Season and celebrate the fourth anniversary of the opening of their Property Management Company.  Dia, the Owner of the business, was employed by the original Developer of Loreto Bay doing liaison work with Homeowners, before launching her Property Management company located in Agua Viva, the second phase of Loreto Bay.

A lot of effort goes into preparing for a party of this size and no doubt Dia and some of her staff had been working on the plans for some time, but the first evidence of the set-up for the party began the afternoon before, when a section of the main street in front of their offices was blocked off and dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs were set up in front of a temporary stage.  Near the entrance on the north side of the party area there was a bar for mixed drinks and a beer tent, with food stations for the buffet arranged along one side of the cordoned off area, facing the stage.  In addition to the set up for the party, there were several booths outside the entrance for local vendors, and a big display Trailer for Baja Screens parked on the street at the far end of the party enclosure.      

Costumes had been encouraged for this event, and so I had put together an outfit that was vaguely reminiscent of my “hippie” period, many years ago!  But as I was donning beads and a headscarf I was wondering how many others attending would “dress” for the occasion – however, since my hair is longer now than it ever was in the 70’s, I was not going to miss taking advantage of a theme opportunity like this.  But as it turned out, I needn’t have been concerned – and perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, that the “Peace & Love” theme proved to be very resonant among the mainly Boomer demographic that is Loreto Bay!

So after being greeted by Dia and the team of Agua Viva employees at the entrance (all of whom were suitably costumed) I made my way into the party enclosure and saw that in fact most of the people at the party had made the effort to dress, or at least accessorize, for the occasion.  A local Mexican band was playing rock music in front of the stage and the crowd continued to increase steadily over the next hour or so, as more and more people arrived.  Soon, the buffet line began to form, starting at the food stations and extending the length of the party area before wrapping back on itself again, while about half of the crowd sat at tables or mingled and visited while they waited for the line to shorten.

                   There were beef, chicken and fish skewers grilling over hot coals and potatoes, pasta and veggies to go along with the entrees, Will and Cynthia had a table selling wines from their Wine Bar @ Nopolo by the glass or bottle, and Paulette from Ette’s Pies had a table of her delicious deserts for sale as well.  Progress in the line was slow, because Carlos, who has opened Agave, a new restaurant in Agua Viva, was the solo Grill Chef, but no one seemed to mind as they chatted together and listened to the music.      

After the opening band had completed their set, the members of Los Beach Dogs took over the stage and soon the “headline” act started to play their first gig of the new Season.  I have been following the “Dogs” since their earliest performances and so it may be difficult for me to be objective, but these guys have become a very professional group and give a polished performance.  Needless to say, here in Loreto Bay they are the local favorites and the crowd responded by filling the dance floor (or perhaps I should say, they were “dancing in the streets!”)

Later on in the evening, between sets, Dia and her Agua Viva Management staff took to the stage and Dia thanked the assembled crowd for attending and acknowledged the people who had contributed to making the event the success it was.  She talked about the past four years of her company’s history and introduced her staff.  Her presentation concluded with the announcement of her employee of the year, a mother with five children, who was very excited to receive the generous cash award.

And so the music and dancing went on into the night and the first big party of another Season was a great success – the first of what I know will be many celebrations to come, both large and small, organized, and spur of the moment.  While it’s my privilege (and self imposed responsibility) to report on these goings on here in Loreto Bay, it is satisfying to see the positive momentum and community spirit carry over from the end of one season into the beginning of the next with even rising enthusiasm.

It is also significant that while the majority of people at this party were from Loreto Bay, a good percentage were from town – both ex-pat and Mexican.  I think this is important for at least two reasons; greater integration of our growing community with the town’s people is a good thing that leads to better understanding, and, I know from talking to some of the “townies”, it had been a while since some of them had last visited Loreto Bay and they told me how very impressed they were with the improved appearance of the Development, due to all the new landscaping since their last visit.

Connecting with an earlier time that many of us shared when we were younger and idealistic, when “Love & Peace” meant more than just the words – bridging from that time to today, and finding a new meaning for those words, as it applies to the homes and community we are building here in the Baja, this is another new meaning to “Living Loreto”.