Sunday, October 19, 2014

Season Seven begins!

And so begins my seventh year of publishing posts to this Living Loreto Blog . . . I remember reading somewhere that we replace every cell in our body over a seven year period, so I guess that means that I am by now "reborn" as a quasi-Loretano - a "new man" since I began writing the almost 200 postings that make up the archive of Living Loreto!

Having stayed in Loreto until the beginning of July this year, and returning around the third week in September, this summer get-away was a month shorter than I have taken in past years, but enjoyable none the less. I spent about half that time returning for a few weeks in Calgary before travelling around British Columbia in August.  The rest of the summer was spent travelling to and from Canada, including my return trip down the west Coast of the US over the final three weeks, towing my summer "home-away-from-home" the 32' travel trailer I live in when I leave Loreto.  Because I store the trailer just north of Tijuana in Southern California, I do not haul it over the Mexican Highway #1 the thousand kilometers between Loreto and the border.

My trip north to the border with a travelling companion was more enjoyable than driving Highway #1 solo, but when we arrived at the border crossing in Tecate MX, about an hour east of San Diego CA, on the Sunday afternoon of the July 4th weekend, we encountered the longest line up to enter the US I have ever seen at this crossing.  Obviously, there were a "ton" of people returning to the US after spending the Holiday weekend in Mexico and it took us three hours to make the crossing - compared to the hour or so it has taken on recent previous trips.

However, on that drive north I stumbled on a neat idea that made big difference passing through the half dozen or so Highway checkpoints that are located between Loreto and the US border.  Although I have never had a problem at these Federal Army Checkpoints on my many previous trips back and forth on this highway, I do feel some stress each time I encounter one - due in large part to my lack of fluency in Spanish.  Although the soldiers manning these checkpoints are professional and just doing their job - that is, mainly checking for contraband drugs and guns - it can be a bit intimidating being asked questions in rapid Spanish from well armed, uniformed soldiers.

In preparation for their questions (which are basically; where did you come from, where are you going, and why), I had prepared a crib sheet in Google translated Spanish, to refresh my memory as I approached each stop.  However, at the first Checkpoint stop I came to I felt a bit silly reading from my "cheat sheet" so I simply handed the Officer the slip of paper on which I had written:  "Me voy a volver a Canadá, viajando desde Loreto a Tecate" or "I am returning to Canada, travelling from Loreto to Tecate".

As simple as that is, it proved to be one of the better I ideas I have had to handle the language challenge of passing through these Checkpoints - the soldier seemed a bit surprised at first when I handed him my slip of Spanish, but as I watched him read it he broke into a smile, chuckled, handed it back and waved me through!  I got the same effect at each of the other stops on the trip north, in most cases I didn't even have to get out of the car, and if there was any inspection it was minimal and I was soon on my way again.  Thinking about this during the trip I came to the conclusion that the questioning of barely bilingual Gringos was probably as trying for the Soldiers as it was for me, and my elementary "cue card" made it easier for both of us. 

I also think that the sheer novelty value of something different was part of the effect as well - it has to be mind numbingly boring for these guys to be standing at the roadside in the middle of "Nowhere" Baja asking the same questions over and over again - and this simple translation sheet seemed to amuse them in a GOOD way!  So I did the same thing on my return trip south, preparing myself beforehand with a version from Tijuana to Loreto - with the same enthusiastic response. 

Following these experiences, on future trips I will probably travel with a Spanish crib sheet again (until I am more "Spanish confident"), and I would encourage any of my loyal Readers who will be travelling Highway #1, and whose Spanish is somewhat shaky (particularly under stress), to try their own version this on their next trip and see if it smoothes the way for you as well!

Speaking of my return trip here last month, many of you will be aware that the Baja has had a record number of Tropical storms and Hurricanes this Fall, including "Odile" the biggest Hurricane on record to hit the Baja.  As the planned time for my departure from the San Diego area back to Loreto drew near, I was watching the weather reports closely, and although actual road reports from travelers were hard to find due to the Internet being down in most of the Baja following the storm, I was eventually able to confirm that the road had re-opened to regular traffic, before I began my trip about a week after the storm had hit.

Most of the damage from Odile was at the southern tip of the peninsula in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, due mainly to the high winds and secondly the heavy rains that accompanied this storm.  Further north from Cabo, La Paz experienced some damage as well, but fortunately this area around Loreto was relatively unharmed, although many trees and bushes here in Loreto Bay were blown over and there was some initial flooding, within a few days of the storm passing things were looking pretty much back to normal when I arrived back here. 

My drive south was actually one of the easiest I have made, with any storm damaged pavement having received temporary repairs and noticeably fewer vehicles on the road than normal, although there were a large number of empty flatbed trucks heading north, presumably after delivering their cargo for the recovery work around Cabo of heavy equipment and replacements for the thousands of power poles damaged by the storm.

More impressive than the aftereffects of the storm was the lush green landscape from about 500 km south of Tijuana through to Loreto!  This is the third year in a row that the area around Loreto has received at least 3 or 4 times the average annual precipitation during our rainy season that runs from mid-August through mid to late October!  Call it Climate Change if you like, but if these recent trends continue, someday we may become closer to a rain forest than a desert here!

Within a few days of my arrival there was another tropical storm that passed over the Loreto area, bringing with it heavy rains and the most powerful lightening storm I have ever experienced!  What started as distant thunder quickly came closer and before long the lightning flashes were simultaneous with thunderous cracks - meaning we were directly under the passing storm!  It was at this point that I began to wonder if I had in fact closed the sun roof on my SUV when I had parked it after a trip into town earlier in the afternoon.

I was almost sure that I had closed it, but I WAS sure it had been open to cool the car while I was driving, and I couldn't shake the lingering doubt as I watched the heavy rain slashing down and listened to the thunder claps on top of the lightning flashes.  However, what was obvious was that if it was open the interior of the car was already thoroughly soaked, and I wasn't going to venture out while the lightning was still happening all around the house.  The center of the storm passed as quickly as it had arrived, so it was not too long after that, when the electrical part of the storm was distant again, that I thought it would now be safe to venture out and hopefully confirm that the roof had been closed.   

Although the lightening had all but stopped, it was still raining hard when I ventured out with an umbrella to check on my car which was parked on the street nearby.  Between the wind and the heavy rain the umbrella was of limited use, mainly keeping my head and chest dry, but within a few steps I became soaked from the waist down and was treading through a couple of inches of water on the flagstone sidewalk to the street.  The street itself was overflowing the curbs and the rushing water had submerged the "tope", or speed bump - but the GOOD news was the roof of the car was closed - and I was so relieved that I didn't mind getting soaking wet to find out!

In the couple of weeks that I have been back that was the last storm we have had and I have seen the daytime highs drop 5 to 10 degrees with the humidity down to 60 - 70% from 80 - 90% when I arrived, so as Homeowners begin to return again for another Baja "winter" the weather is returning to almost ideal conditions again to welcome them home.  Seeing Loreto return to normal again, after coming through one of the most active rainy seasons on record, makes me appreciate even more "Living Loreto"!