Sunday, December 29, 2013

This week, due to Holidays and entertaining Guests from Canada, I am taking a one week hiatus from writing a Blog posting.  My apologies to the many faithful Readers who check these pages every week, and I promise you all there will be a new posting here again next week.

However, since you are here now anyway, perhaps this is a good opportunity to "drill down" in the archives and find some of the past postings that you may have missed - or even re-read some of your favorites from the past?

Regardless, please accept my sincere Best Wishes for this Holiday Season and the New Year, which is almost upon us, and my thanks for your continued interest in reading my thoughts about this place, without you I would not be able to be "Living Loreto"!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's beginning to look a bit like Christmas

While most of North America deals with unseasonably cold and snowy weather and the "official" winter season is only just beginning, here in Loreto Bay we too have had some cool evenings and blustery days over the past several weeks, but as I write this, the weather here has returned to ideal conditions - mid to high 20s Celsius (or mid to high 70s Fahrenheit) and calm.  Over the years I have lived here I have come to understand that the definition of "bad" weather here in Loreto is a windy day, still usually blue skies and sunny, but windy is about as bad as it gets here, apologies to those still living in the Great White North!

I begin by mention the weather because after spending most of my former life in western Canada I have a very strong connection between "normal" (cold) winter weather and the Christmas Holiday Season and so as I approach this time of year, from my perspective of living here in Loreto, the experience is different in so many ways.

But it is still Christmas, and, however jarring I may find it, many of the same iconic symbols and imagery as we North Americans are familiar with can be found here as well - sometimes with a little extra Mexican salsa added.  Next door to the Liquor store I occasionally frequent in town there is a temporary streetside vendor selling all manner of Christmas decorations and lights - even a white plastic Christmas tree, for that "not-so-traditional" look.  While a little further down the street another shop has an impressive display of the traditional
Mexican piñatas, which are a staple of any respectable Posada Navidad (Christmas Party) here, first filled with candies and small favors and then smashed to bits, usually by blindfolded kids swinging a stout stick, while everyone else stands around singing a traditional song (trust me, it's more festive than it sounds!).

The town square in Loreto has also "donned it's gay apparel" with impressively tall cone shaped "tree" and a more realistic crèche (but, I noted, no baby Jesus), as well as other civic decorations on the City Hall, and along the main road in and out of town where some of the Palm trees have been wrapped in lights as well. 

Here in Loreto Bay there are some signs of Christmas too.  New this year, the HOA has added some lighted displays in the median of the recently landscaped Paseo and a number of homes are decorated with wreaths, while some others have added strings of lights.  I have also noticed that a few Homeowners have turned their "Hi-Guys" into a miniature display area, a new idea that may become a unique Loreto Bay tradition. 

For those of you not familiar with Loreto Bay architecture a "Hi-Guy" what we call a small pass through cupboard, usually located near the front door of the house, which was originally intended as a way to deliver "room service" or other supplies into a home without the resident having to be there to receive it.  (Oh yes, and the name? - some of you may remember the old TV commercial where a guy opens the medicine cabinet door in his apartment and sees his neighbor standing on the other side saying "Hi Guy!")

Of course Christmas is not only about decorations, over the past several weeks the Loreto Bay Volunteers have been collecting donations and contributions for a Christmas Party for the children of the Internado (residential) School.  There was a gift wrapping bee for the presents they had collected or purchased, and then a few days later many of the same volunteers attended the party for the kids to join them in the excitement of the unwrapping as well.  

Which brings me to a few observations about how Christmas is celebrated here, as compared to what most of us were used, having lived in North America.  Without the focus on consumerism and commercial hype, the Christmas Holiday is much different here.  While most average kids here do look forward to getting presents, they are not inundated with TV commercials for months, building their expectations for the latest video game etc.  And the Christmas holiday, which for most people in Mexico started this week and will extend past New Year's Day, is generally speaking a more low key, family and friends oriented celebration, as opposed to the shopping and gift giving extravaganza that dominates the Holiday Season for many north of the border.

The Catholic Church, generally speaking, is also a much bigger influence on the Mexican people and their lifestyle here, with many church related events and activities, often involving kids and their families, centered around the historic Mission in town.  With the relative lack of more material distractions, I see that the church here plays a more important role in the Holiday Season than it does in many of the more secular places north of the border.

There is also somewhat of a "changing of the guard" among the Homeowners here in Loreto Bay at this time of year.  Quite a few of the residents who are here for most of the Season plan a trip back to their northern home to spend the Holidays with family and friends, and then return here again for the rest of their retreat from winter weather.  At the same time, others who are not so lucky as to be able to spend their winters here, plan a visit to their Loreto Bay home over the Holidays.  Likewise, it is also a popular time for friends and family to come to Loreto to visit Homeowners who choose to stay here over the Holidays.

So with these comings and goings, modest decorations, holiday schedules for those who work here, life in Loreto is different during the Holidays - but some things remain the same, like comfortable (if breezy) temperatures, usually blue skies, palm trees and bougainvillea blossoms.  So while it may not look a lot like Christmas, it is still a special time of year, when you are "Living Loreto".

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Open Mic Night comes to Loreto Bay

I have often written on the subject of entertainment here in Loreto Bay on these pages, but this weekend there was an addition to that menu - an Open Mic Night at the Wine Cellar @ Nopolo.  Certainly musicians are often featured at our very popular local "watering hole", but this was something new, an open invitation to musical members of the community to perform for their friends and neighbors in a relaxed, and hopefully non-threatening venue.

Like most other good ideas, this one required some effort and co-operation to come about which came from Bill and Steve (one of the members of Los Beach Dogs) who were instrumental (pun intended!) in bringing this event together, along with Will and Cynthia, the owners of the Wine Cellar.  Microphones, amplifiers and the sound system were set up before the performances began, and people started arriving early for the 7:00 pm start time, to insure a good seat.  Which proved to be a good thing, because as the evening progressed  and  a steady stream of music fans continued to arrive, it was soon standing room only, with the overflow spilling out to the small patio in front of the "Cellar".

When all the preparations were complete, Steve welcomed the crowd and encouraged them to show their support of the performers to come by moderating their conversations among themselves so the musicians wouldn't have to compete with too much background noise.  He also explained that each of the participants would be limited to a maximum of three numbers and a 15 minute set, so everyone who wanted to would have their chance to perform.  He also encouraged those listening to show their enthusiasm and support for the entertainers, some of whom had little prior experience with performing their music in public - advice that proved unnecessary given the friendly atmosphere in the room.

Bill, who was one of the organizers of  the evening, was first up and although he is someone who has had relatively less experience with public performance, regular readers may remember that he had played and sung at the Full Moon Beach party which I had written about earlier this Season (  His set was followed by Don, who has played here before as well, and then by Steve, a recently arrived visitor who said that friends of his had just talked him into making this appearance, much to the enjoyment of the rest of us!

The rest of the evening's entertainment was provided by Rich, George, Tony and Steve, all members of Los Beach Dogs, whom most of you will know as Loreto Bay's own popular "homegrown" musical group that performs frequently within the Community, as well as occasionally at other venues in and around Loreto.  But on this occasion the crowd was in for something special; Rich, George and Steve each did solo acoustic sets, sometimes accompanied by Tony on percussion, and we had the opportunity to enjoy their individual styles, and music that was different than what they usually play in their soft-rock Beach Dog ensemble.

After these solo performances, the four of them wrapped up the evening's entertainment by getting  together and playing another set of some of their Beach Dog "hits", albeit with a more acoustic interpretation than they play them in bigger venues.  With that, the music was over, but the evening carried on, as the crowd slowly thinned as people began to find their ways home again. 

But meanwhile, libations continued to flow, and tempting tapas dishes kept coming from the small but
efficient kitchen at the Wine Cellar, and animated conversation replaced the earlier musical entertainment.  While I was enjoying yet another evening at our local "hang out", it occurred to me that the special atmosphere that this Bar has on an evening like this, is due in large part to the fact that most of the people there are friends, or at least acquaintances, and the majority of them call Loreto Bay home.  So whether it is dropping in for a late afternoon drink or snack, watching televised sports on the TVs, or having a light supper or late night nibble, the Wine Cellar has become almost our "Club" as opposed to just a Bar.  A Club that everyone is welcome to, whether they are a regular that stays here for the Season, or someone renting a home here on their first visit, discovering Loreto Bay for themselves.

In talking to Bill afterwards, I learned that the plan is to have these Open Mic Nights every couple of weeks through the Season, alternating between the Wine Cellar in Loreto Bay and the 1697 restaurant  on the town square in Loreto.  While I am pleased to be able to look forward to enjoying more evenings like this in the future, I also think that by having them in the two locations, here and in town, will also develop more opportunities for people to mingle between these two communities, while appreciating the highly talented musicians that we have here among us.

And so another entertaining evening came to a close here in Loreto Bay, and as I made my way home I thought about the number of surprisingly talented musicians who are around me here, and the warm reception they all received from the enthusiastic crowd.  I also thought about how this Friday the 13th may be remembered as the beginning of a new local tradition of Open Mic Nights that may bring our local communities together - and I reflected again how lucky I am to be "Living Loreto"!     

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What's to do in Loreto Bay?

We are now in a relatively quiet spell between American Thanksgiving and Christmas and currently the majority of the population of Loreto Bay is made up of Seasonal residents, but there are still a fair number of renters and short-term visiting Homeowners here.  Given this relative lull in activity here this week, I decided to address a question I've been asked many times over the years: "What do you do in Loreto Bay?"

Well to begin with, this is a mainly unstructured community, so most people here typically find their own
activities, but there are some groups that do get together - like a popular yoga session that meets several mornings a week at a Community Palapa located near my home.  Others of a more sedentary morning persuasion tend to congregate at El Corazon, our beautiful barista-style coffee shop on the main Paseo, where good coffee, fresh pastries and friendly conversation can usually be found.

Now with three Community Pools within the development, poolside activities have become a larger part of the lifestyle in Loreto Bay - whether that means actual swimming in the Lap Pool, or lounging and reading a book or playing a round of backgammon.  Another option is the Hotel, with their poolside bar and restaurant providing nourishment and thatched beach umbrellas providing a perfect spot to spend some time gazing at the beautiful Sea of Cortez.  The Hotel beach is also a great place to launch a kayak or paddle board into the usually calm waters.

With the significant numbers of dogs in the community, there is another social circle on the beach itself with the dogs and their owners taking long walks together in the surf.  While solitary beach combing is also a popular pastime, particularly as the sun rises from behind the off-shore islands - an ever changing spectacle that is guaranteed to get any day in Loreto Bay off to a good start!

With our community surrounded on three sides by a Golf Course, for many Residents playing 9 or 18 holes is a regular part of their weekly routine, and an affordable one at that - with unlimited monthly green fees still only $240.00.  The perimeter of the Golf Course also makes a great walking/jogging trail with beautiful Mountain and Ocean vistas providing the entertainment.

For those looking for more adventure
 we have our own Tour Company in the development offering bicycle and ATV rentals, guided hikes, kayaking, boat excursions and fishing trips among other seasonal activities like whale watching in the spring.  Although commercial development along the Paseo is in its early development, there are several places you can get a good massage, and a spa, as well as some other opportunities for "retail therapy" - to which will soon be added a private workout room with exercise equipment and a new grocery/flower shop.  Also our local Community Center is available for interested groups to get together for Bridge or Mah Jong, and there is also an impressive collection of donated books available there for loan, on a loosely structured "leave one, take one" basis.

Living, as we do, in the center of a Marine Park on the Sea of Cortez (which Jacques Cousteau called "the aquarium of the World") I would be remiss not to mention more about fishing, a popular activity among many who spend time here.  While you can fish directly off Punta Nopolo, at the south end of the community, either from shore or a kayak, most "serious" fishers either have their own boat here or hire a panga and captain to take them deep sea fishing where catching many species including tuna, dorado, and sword fish is not an uncommon experience, depending on the season and water temperatures.

There are also interesting drives and/or hikes in and around the surrounding area of Loreto.  With historic sites like the San Javier Mission and Cave Paintings less than an hour's drive away and numerous trails into the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains nearby, we live in a fascinating part of the world surrounded by natural beauty and exotic terrains.

As more ex-pats spend more time here there is a growing volunteer ethic that finds ways to support and enhance the larger community surrounding us here.  Many of these activities, both fundraising and participatory, benefit the local children, particularly like those who are in the Internado (part-time residential school system) who spend Monday to Friday going to school in town (in fairly Spartan living conditions) and then they are bused back and forth on the weekends to the remote Rancheros where the rest of their families live year round.  The growing numbers of winter residents here in Loreto Bay have augmented the activities of a core group of Volunteers who have been active in the town of Loreto in years past.

There are also some local service agencies like the Optimists Club, which meets in town and also raises monies and organizes activities (like an upcoming Santa's Breakfast in Loreto) that help local kids and others less fortunate to enjoy something special during the Holiday Season, as well as at other times of the year.

When all of this is added to a fairly active personal schedule of dinner parties and impromptu sunset
margaritas, or get-togethers at the Wine Bar, or even a low key Community Concert by Los Beach Dogs,  like was held late afternoon, one day this week, suffice to say most of us manage to keep as busy as we want to be most days here, which is another reason why we love "Living Loreto"!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Grey Cup comes to Loreto

One of the sacrifices one makes to live in a foreign country, far away from where you used to call home, is losing contact with some of the traditions that we take for granted.  For the Canadians living here in Loreto Bay at this time of year, one of those traditions is our Canadian Football League final, known by the name of its trophy, the Grey Cup.  This is roughly our national equivalent to the Super Bowl in the US, albeit without as much of the hype and hyperbole that can overwhelm that game.

On Sunday last weekend the Grey Cup was played in Regina Saskatchewan, a small city of less than 250,000 people located in the middle of the Canadian prairies.  Like the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup game moves from one city to another each year in a highly competitive bid process, with the winning cities benefitting from the media exposure and tourism generated by hosting this national event.  The game is played between the Eastern and Western division finalists to determine the National Champion, and so most years the competing teams will be from cities other than the Host City, depending on what has happened during the regional playoffs that year.

However, occasionally the Home Team for the city where the game is to be played does make it through to the final, which obviously increases the interest and enthusiasm surrounding the game in that local market.  Which was the case this year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders representing the Western Conference and the Hamilton Tiger Cats from Ontario as the Eastern Champions.  Without getting too deep into the minutiae of the CFL culture, suffice to say that the Roughriders have one of the most ardent fan bases of any team in this league (similar to that of the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, another small market team) and they draw their fans from all over the Province, some of them travelling hundreds of kilometers to regular home games - let alone to a Grey Cup contest in their own stadium.

Which sets the scene for this past weekend's "gridiron match-up".  My neighbor Boyd and I arrived at the Wine Bar here in Loreto Bay about an hour before the kickoff, to be sure of getting a seat, and by the color of the jerseys of those already present, it looked like it was going to be a mainly green pro-Saskatchewan crowd.  The game was being played in an open-air stadium, not uncommon even in the NFL, but what was more uncommon was the fact that at the 4:30 pm beginning of the game the air temperature on the field was a relatively balmy 2 degrees Celsius (which is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit) and it would drop sharply as the sun set. 

To better appreciate these weather conditions, for those not familiar with Canadian Prairie winters, the night before the game the temperature had dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius (or 4 below zero Fahrenheit) and because all the Hotels in the city were booked solid for the game, the stadium parking lot had some hardy souls staying overnight in RVs and even tents - which, as a measure of fan support, takes the traditional tailgate party to a whole new level!

Back here in Loreto Bay, we are experiencing fairly typical Fall weather now, warm and sunny during the day and cooling off quite noticeably in the evening.  So while it is not nearly as warm now as was even a month ago, the contrast of the mild early evening here, with the bitterly cold winter weather shown on the TV broadcast of the game, strongly reminded me why I have chosen to live here! 

Meanwhile, as it got closer to game-time, more and more people arrived at the Bar until almost every seat was taken, and Will and Cynthia's recently enlarged staff were kept busy taking orders for drinks and food.  When I reached for a table card advertising the food specials I was first surprised, and then amused, to see that "Natchos McNabb" was on the menu - which is a "side-bar" story in itself!  Last year, I think it may perhaps have even been Grey Cup time again, Cynthia had prepared her own recipe of traditional chili con carne, as a special addition to the regular Tapas menu at the Bar.  As I happened to be there that night, I ordered their regular natcho plate with a side order of a bowl of chili, and when the two dishes arrived (in a moment of "divine inspiration") I simply poured the chili over the cheesy natchos and - voila! a new signature dish was created!         

So when I saw that I now had a dish named after me, I had no choice but to try it myself - to maintain quality control and protect my good name, of course!  And so the stage was set, with a cold, amber, Negra Modelo beer and a plate of chili natchos in front of me, and with a clear view of one of the multiple TVs, broadcasting the most important Canadian football game of the season, I was ready for the Baja version of a Canadian tradition - the Grey Cup Party!  And the game did not disappoint, "Rider Pride" was justified as the Western Division Champions took an early lead and then steadily built upon it until they were ahead by about 20 points at half time.

While there were many other Canadians in the crowd at the Wine Bar, a good percentage of those watching were American and I was proud that "our game" (which, although more similar than different than the NFL version) was attracting this uncommon level of interest from our NFL obsessed neighbors.  Not claiming to be any sort of expert when it comes to sports in general or football in particular, on a very basic level some of the differences between the two versions of the game are a longer and wider field in the Canadian game and 4 "downs" versus 3 in the American. From an entertainment perspective many people think the Canuck version is a faster paced and sometimes more unpredictable game.

Bringing traditions with us when we move far from home helps to make where we settle feel more like our new home - and riding to that home in a golf cart, under palm trees, in a short sleeved shirt, after celebrating the Grey Cup at a neighborhood Bar (where a special menu item bears my name) - that is another special way of "Living Loreto"!