Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

While we are enjoying our Christmas "get-away" back in Canada, I have asked a third Guest Blogger to post a special Christmas message for you about this what makes this a magical time of year in Loreto. Nellie Hutchison, owner of Dorado Properties in Loreto, has contributed the story and pictures about how Christmas was celebrated, and how our community contributed to making it a extra special day to remember.

We will be returning to Loreto this week and I look forward to resuming my postings in the New Year. Enjoy your celebrations, wherever you are, and make a resolution to come back here and visit "Living Loreto" often in 2009! Happy New Year!


Christmas for Kids in Loreto, Mexico

This has been a difficult year for everyone, everywhere, and yet people pulled together and dug a little deeper to give gifts to the children of Loreto. There were many toy drives and groups that volunteered their time and efforts for the general good of all local families.

Jim and Liz of FN383 Villages of Loreto Bay stepped up and raised money at the Golf Course among Nopolo residents for the Loreto Municipal Children’s Party. They drove to La Paz to shop for gifts with the money raised. Jim and Liz, (and Jeanny from BajaBOSS) are shown presenting over 100 small gifts to Yolanda, who now works at DEF which assists families in need.

Thanks to all the Loreto Bay homeowners who left toys with me during the last several weeks. All gifts went to Yolanda to wrap and distribute as appropriate. She assured me that all gifts were going to families in need, and there is much need in Loreto this year.

We attended the celebration on December 24, 2008, outside of the Loreto Mission. It was well attended by many families and lots of children waited patiently for their turn to see Santa and receive their new present. All gifts were wrapped, with the exception of several small bicycles lined up with ribbons for some very lucky children.

It was quite festive with a large decorated tree, an enormous Santa Sack and tables full of wrapped gifts, a few small fireworks, and Christmas music playing in the background. There was a pageant with actors in costume, and dinner was served to all who attended afterwards.

The Mission was well lit and decorated and ready for midnight mass, a time to be thankful and pray for good things next year. Many local Loreto residents including Rosa Castaneda (owner of Café Ole) organize and donate new presents for CARITAS which are distributed to the children in Miramar and Zaragoza, as well as outlying ranches and villages, such as San Javier, San Bruno and Luigi on Christmas Eve.

Jim Spano, representing the new J.W. Marriott, located at the old Whales Inn hotel site in Nopolo has been very generous with their Christmas party for CAM, the school for mentally and physically challenged children. This year’s party was held at their new building donated by the developers of this new luxury condominium resort.

Every student was given an appropriate gift by Santa. There were three piñatas and more candy than you can imagine for everyone including adults, siblings and staff. There was a 10 meter slide and bounce gym for the kids to play on. Several hundred people came to take in the festivities and food, which included families taking home entire grocery bags filled with sandwiches, salads, and more candy.

This is a very special charity for Mr. Spano which he fondly refers to as Miles of Smiles. The joy and excitement in the eyes and faces of the children at this event is something that the entire J.W. Marriott team looks forward to throughout the year. All the families of CAM very much appreciate the efforts and generosity shown by Loreto’s newest developer.

These are the children’s charities that I know of, and I am sure that many people in this community have contributed and given their time, money and goodwill to others. Thank you for Random Acts of Kindness and making each day a little brighter for someone else.

My very best wishes for a Happy and Prosperous 2009!

Miss Nellie

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Greetings from the Great White North!

Because I am currently shivering up here in Canada, at -25 C, I have asked my good friend and Loreto Bay neighbor, Kelli, to write a "Guest" blog for this week's installment of "Living Loreto". Some of you will be familiar with Kelli's blog "Watch and Learn", which she has just relaunched and you can visit at: . She has written a piece about Christmas preparations in Loreto that I hope puts you into the Christmas Spirit wherever you are celebrating the Holidays this year. I trust you will all have a safe and happy Holiday and I hope you will come back often to visit "Living Loreto" in the New Year! Merry Christmas All!


It's Beginning to Look a Little like Christmas

What's Christmas to a Midwesterner without an evergreen tree, mall music, and a lot of snow? How do you make Christmas merry and bright here in Loreto? Well, as with everything else here, you improvise. Those of us lucky enough to be in Loreto Bay for the holidays are finding our own ways to creating the Christmas spirit. Some of us have lights strung on our terraces or towers. I think those of us with small children feel more incentive to work at it, but it's hard. Finding a Christmas tree is near impossible.
I did see two plastic trees for sale today outside a store on Salvatierre Boulevard. One was a shade of green I can only describe as Grinch lime-green. I was tempted to buy it for novelty's sake, instead, we cut a few birch-like branches from trees near the arroyo and fashioned them into a rustic "tree." My husband stood them up in a clay pot and added rocks for support. I dressed the pot with a red bikini wrap and our daughter hung ornaments we'd brought from home. It might have been easier to have just decorated a cactus. I've seen that done here.

In Loreto you will find several outdoor town-sponsored nativity scenes, they not being illegal as is often the case in America. The mother of all nativity scenes ever has to be the one on at the end of Benito Juarez Avenue. The red devil in the background is priceless. I'm not sure which is more amusing--he, or the turkey, the duck, and the chickens mulling with the sheep at the manger. Vendors make small efforts to spread the cheer with decorations and lights, but overall the Christmas mood is subdued.
I kind of like that. There are a few giant pinatas strung down the Mission Boulevard and the other major boulevards. They are particularly eye-catching and lovely. There's a big stuffed Santa perched on the balcony of City Hall. My favorite effort is the chic simplicity of the lights in the trees above the Latte Cafe courtyard next to the town square. Beneath them I sat with my girlfriends last evening sipping our cappuccinos. It would have been a perfect atmosphere if not for the thump-thump of the bass coming from cruising cars.

There'll be no last minute runs to to mall for gifts. Whatever else I need I have ordered online and asked my sons to carry with them when they fly in on Christmas Day. We snuck a frozen turkey over the border (don't even know if that's a no-no or not.) I think I can find sweet potatoes at the Pescador, but who knows? We may have rice and beans alongside our lovely roasted Butterball. But I draw the line at tortillas. We will bake bread. What we will have is beautiful weather, a plethora of outdoor activities that don't require parkas and snow boots, and a respite from the crazy consumer-driven Christmas we are so accustomed to in the U.S. Other families in the community are celebrating in their own make-shift ways, but mostly it all centers on a wonderful meal with the people we love most.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Once upon a Mule"

Since I am currently back in Calgary, visiting family and friends for for the next couple of weeks over the Holidays, I have asked several good friends and neighbors, who also live in Loreto Bay, to write "Guest Blogs" of some of their experiences. This weeks posting is by Dee, who writes about a remarkable adventure she had earlier this year, I know you will enjoy it, thanks, Dee!

When my friends, Cecile Martin and Debora Simmons of La Damiana Inn fame, talked about going on a mule trip to see the cave paintings northeast of San Ignacio, I was all about the mule ride. I knew I wanted a Baja experience and that this trip on mules would be just that. I am a horse lover and have even had my own but I had never been on a mule or even around donkeys much at all. The cave paintings were secondary. For Cece, the trip was about the cave paintings. Fortunately, she had studied a little before we left and was prepared to be our resident photographer. The trip turned out to be everything I wanted and way more. AND I was absolutely blown away by those 10,800 year old paintings.

We met Trudi Angell, our guide and owner of Saddling South, in San Ignacio late on a Sunday afternoon in early April. We figured April would offer us clear, warm, sunny days and cool nights for camping. We followed Trudi for two hours up a narrow, rugged, mostly one lane road that at times was worse than the road from Loreto to San Javier. The views were stunning…the higher we got, the wider the vistas. No one seemed to live anywhere near this road…only a few goats and cattle here and there. This road took us to the small mountain village of Sierra de San Francisco which is considered the jumping off point for the best of Baja’s rock art sites.

This first night we stayed in a hostel owned by the government. There we found fairly new, beautiful, rustic, little cabins that surrounded a communal kitchen and dining area where Trudi made us a really nice dinner of salad and pasta. We were also joined by the two cowboys who would be our guides, along with Trudi, over the next 3 days.

The next morning it was up early to go sign in at a rancher’s home so we could enter the area of the World Heritage Sites of Mural Rock Art. All three of our guides are registered with the government and are authorized to take tours throughout this unique area. The village where we packed and loaded up the donkeys and mules was a gathering of cement block homes with some gorgeous flower gardens. They raised goats and made goat cheese. They also tanned hides for saddles and shoes. We rode the mules while the donkeys carried all of our many, many things! Our guide, Chema, played the guitar and there was one little older donkey named Triangle because he had had three owners. Triangle’s special job was to carry the guitar and he became special to all of us on the trip. I have never seen a cuter donkey.

We were all on our mules, six mules for the humans and five donkeys for all the “stuff.” Saddling South provided everything needed for the trip including food and tents. We only brought our own sleeping bags, pads and clothes. We traveled for about 5-6 hours by mule on rugged trails through cactus garden valleys and back up over ridge tops with great views. Up and down we went on trails on the very sides of the mountains. Steep, windy, narrow trails of slippery rock. I know now why those sure-footed mules are called “four wheel-drive horses.” For hours, we wound our way through wide canyons into a more narrow one that was lush with palm trees and big boulders. We camped there for the next two nights.

The next day, we were not nearly as sore as we thought we would be. Nevertheless, after a cowboy breakfast, we were up hiking to our first caves. No mule riding today. Well, whew, we all thought an easier day!! No one mentioned that to see the first caves we would be climbing up and around boulders and hiking through dry streams with basketball sized rocks. I felt like I was in some kind of boot camp. We first visited rock art that was carved into the sides a big boulder. We then proceeded to two different sites of cave paintings, Los Musicos and Cueva Boca de San Julio. The next day, Chema, was our lone guide as we visited three more caves. He proved himself to be an expert at patiently guiding us up and down into these caves and out. I never dreamed rock climbing would be part of the trip. The caves this day were Cueva La Pintada, Cueva de las Fechas and La Soledad.

Cave paintings are truly a magical mystery. Their origins and purpose remain unknown. Most of the caves we saw were long and shallow with vast expanses of fairly smooth rock surface. Most were quite high. So high that it was baffling that these pre-hispanics could paint so high. It is surmised that they built scaffolding but would have had to travel a ways with the wood. Then they likely used it to cook their food.

The paintings can be quite elaborate and are well-preserved. They depict rabbits, mountain sheep and deer. Some even show marine mammals, fish and shorebirds. Humans are also included in these crude but distinct paintings. Most of the objects are over life-sized. The colors are from earth’s minerals, mostly red, black, orange red and yellow. They are stunning and quite unbelievable. There are several books about this including one with photographs by Harry Crosby and an early one by Earle Stanley Gardner of Perry Mason fame.

Our guide, Chema, was truly a high point of this trip. Raised in the Baja on one of the 30 or so ranches that are still only accessible by hiking or mule, he is a true cowboy and jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. He raises goats, makes goat cheese, tequila and many items from goat skins, including saddles and accessories. He decided the day before the trip that he needed some new boots so he just stitched some up out of goat leather. Really handsome boots! He is as proud of his daughters as he is of his sons for following in his footsteps to be Baja cowboys. Chema is quite talented musically, too - every night around the campfire we enjoyed his singing and playing the guitar. He plays in a band with his son and is also featured in the movie, “Corazon Vaquero, Heart of the Cowboy” that Trudi was instrumental in filming on life in the Baja.

This was truly a unique journey into the heart of the sierra. I feel fortunate to have shared this journey with really wonderful people and Trudi’s dog, Lucky. I feel honored to have been able to have this fascinating glimpse into a way of life that has hardly changed in 300 years.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Golf Anyone?

One of the central attractions in the Loreto Bay development has always been the proposed development of a first class golf course. In the early days, the original Fonatur course was nothing like a first class course, but it did serve as a place holder for the land in the development and it held the promise of what could be done with the proper landscaping, irrigation and maintenance.

I remember playing on the “old course” last winter, after they had stopped irrigating - the cow patties were a local hazard and things were looking pretty bleak! That all changed this past March when the “new 9” was first opened for homeowners and we were able to play the luscious fairways and greens for the first time. The difference was incredible! David Duvall's design, interpreted and realized by Tom Webber and his crew, added challenges, dimension and beauty to the course and highlighted all the natural assets that surround the property.

There have been even more changes (for the better!) since those memorable first few rounds. First of all, we are now starting from the original clubhouse and playing holes 10 through 18 in their normal order, while in the spring we were starting at (what is now) 16, at the south end of the Hotel. In the spring the sand traps were not filled (resulting in a occasional par saving free drop) but now they are definitely “in play” and add a serious challenge on some holes.

The on-going upkeep and maintenance of the course is being expertly handled by Raoul Torres and his crew from Troon Golf. While the conditions of the course speak for themselves, I appreciate the inconspicuous behaviour of the grounds crew, getting their work done without impacting the play or enjoyment of the players. Starting this Fall, there are two “best ball scrambles” organized weekly, one for couples on Wednesday mornings and another, mainly for men on Friday afternoons.

The course is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and tee times are never a problem during the rest of the week. In fact, one of the most wonderful aspects of playing this course now is that very often you will play a 9 hole round without being in sight of another player, ahead or behind! A true luxury, for those of us used to playing the sausage grinder pace of most public and semi-private courses at home, where you are in a frustrating lockstep, delayed by the people ahead and pushed by the people behind.

Bear in mind, all of this challenge, beauty and luxury is also a bargain for those of us lucky to be homeowners in Loreto Bay. A package of 20 nine hole rounds costs about $500, or $25 each per round, with a shared electric cart or brand new ergonomic 3 wheel push cart. Current prices for non-homeowner players at double that price, are still a bargain by Baja golf standards, where prices over $20 per HOLE, for 18 are not unheard of!

On a recent Tuesday, with the course closed, I borrowed a cart and headed out to take pictures of the nine holes now in operation. Below is my attempt at a brief illustrated course guide. It is intended for those of you who are looking forward to returning to Loreto and playing the course yourself, and for the rest of you, who are interested in golf, and might be pursuaded to consider visiting some day to see it for yourself. Fore! or, should I say, Cuatro!

The first hole (actually 10th when the full 18 opens) is a par 5 that ranges from 500 to 530 yards and is one of the longest holes on the course. The fairway has lots of contour, providing a variety of lies, so even if your yardage is consistant you get a different look from every tee shot. There is water down the entire right side and homes parallel the left side of the wide fairway. As you approch the green, traps are in play on the left and a “dry garden” with a large tree restricts the right side.

The next hole, the first of three par 4s, is across the new entrance road to the Hotel, where paving and roadside landscaping is nearing completion. The tee boxes for this hole are beside a rocky hill on the left and separated from the fairway by a sand pathway with yardages ranging between 330 and 375. Once over the sand, the fairway opens out wide with bunkers on the short right and longer left with another “dry garden” planted with a number of trees closer in to the green and in a direct line from the tees. Approaching the green can be tricky, with large traps on the right and behind, backed up by water.

Crossing an estuary bridge brings you to the tees for the 3rd hole, tucked in beside the Highway as it heads south from Nopolo and into the mountains. Traffic noise, including trucker's “jake brakes” add to the challenges of tee shot for this hole that is between 340 and 400 yards. The estuary runs along the first three quarters of the fairway on the left, pinching it off as you get close to the hole. There is a short bunker on the left and a large “dry garden” with several trees and succulent ground cover called “Ice Plant” that can hide a ball easily. If you miss the water left you have a tight approach to the green but if you clear the garden (perhaps on a second shot) there is lots of room behind it and good angles to the well bunkered green from that side.

The fourth hole at 335 to 385 yards has a large fairway, particularly from the back tees, with a dog leg right and a hidden pin around the the hills that mark the southern edge of the Loreto Bay property. Directly ahead of the tees is a long narrow bunker, well placed to catch a good straight drive, but there is plenty of landing room on the left and with luck and a bit of a slice you can curve a bit around the hill and have a clear approach to the green, with bunkers in front on the left and beside on the right.

As you approach this green, your eyes will be drawn up to the impressive new tee boxes that have been built into the hill behind for the brand new par three fifth hole. Thousands of man-hours of the hardest pick and shovel labour have gone into creating these tees for what will be one of the most picturesque holes on this course. A beautiful flagstone path winds up the edge of the hill 100 – 150 feet above the course level to three massive round tee “plateaus” - each offset from the others and all with a staggering view. In fact, you will be torn between contemplating the beautiful oval

green (sheltered under a 200 foot rocky hill and protected by bunkers in front), and gazing off to the right and seeing the beautiful Sea of Cortez below the shear drop-off beside the pathway up. According to the current scorecard the yardages for this par 3 range between 120 to 150, but for now the usable tees below the new boxes are in the 80's.

Around the rocky hill from this green you come to what was the signature hole of the old course, another par 3. Here you have a choice of tees, the first of which is a short climb up the hill to the back tees where you are looking at a 200 yard shot, mainly across water to the redesigned green. One aspect of the new green is that from the long tees there is now water behind as well as in front, while from the front tees, Punto Nopolo backs the hole, helping with depth perception. Depending on the prevailing direction, wind can also be a decisive factor on this hole and can definitely affect your approach strategy.

The seventh hole is a par 4 that plays between 345 and 385 yards with a right angle dog leg left at the half-way point. You can layup to the corner, or play over the estuary and have an easy pitch onto the raised green, if you can clear several well placed bunkers that protect the short cut route. However a long approach shot can wind up “on the beach” in a hidden trap, or if you're really long, wet, as the estuary wraps around two sides behind this tricky green.

Crossing another estuary bridge and curving arround the private marina bay that belongs to the condos at the end of the Paseo, brings you to the longest par 4 on this course, playing 380 to 420 yards that dogleg right arround several perfectly placed bunkers. If you play it safe and keep left of this sand in mid-fairway, you face several more deeply contoured traps protecting the front of the large green. However, you can forgive these challenges when you appreciate the beautifully landscaped rocky outcrop that provides a distinctly Baja-flavoured backdrop to this green.

Now it's time to recross the entrance road from the highway and wind around behind the first green to the final series of tees for the par 5 ninth that stretches between 465 and 500 yards. The back tees start behind the end of the lake that separates this fairway from the first, while the shorter tees give you different angles across varying stretches of water to a wide and undulating fairway. Staying dry on the left brings several fairway bunkers into play, but the real work for this hole is done on the massive green with ridges and valleys that change the read with every pin placement.

That, gentle reader, is one duffer's view of what will eventually be the back nine of this new Loreto Bay course, and, I have it on good authority that the “front” nine, currently in the final stages of completion, is even more spectacular than the masterpiece you have just toured in your mind's eye. I look forward to sharing that experience with you on a future post.

Whether you are a scratch golfer or a wanna-be duffer, this course is, at the very least, a wonderful excuse to spend a couple of hours surrounded by the beauty of our community, with breathtaking views of the mountains, the sea, the estuaries and, not least of all, the multi-coloured, many towered homescape that is becoming the Villages of Loreto Bay. So, regardless of your skills, golf is going to be an important part of “Living Loreto”.

P.S. Added bonus time! If you visit the link below:
you can download more pictures of the course that I took on this day. If you have an avid golfer on your Christmas list, you can use this link to design your own calendar, (with some of my pictures) and keep their dream alive during the cold spell before their next trip to Loreto!