Saturday, January 31, 2009

No Problem!

We have learned while Living Loreto that some of the best things happen spontaneously. Last weekend while we were attending a birthday party in the town of Loreto, one of the people we met was Dave. As we visited with him during the course of the evening, he asked us if we would like to go out on his boat the next day. Of course, we enthusiastically said “yes, we would love to get out on the water” and so plans were made to meet the next morning on the dock at Puerto Escondido.

Dave lives aboard his 40 foot Motorsailor “No Problem” and anchors it just outside the main harbour at Puerto Escondido, in an entrance bay referred to as the “Waiting Room” by the cruisers who frequent the area. The monthly rate of just over $30 to anchor here is about 10% of the rate that is charged to moor in the main harbour - that is the main reason why most of the live aboard boats “hang out” outside the harbour.

Singlar is the marine division of Fonatur which develops and manages the boating infrastructure in Mexico. They have completed a major upgrade of the facilities at this natural harbour, the largest on the west coast of Mexico, with new dockside facilities including a restaurant, washrooms, laundry facilities, a new launch ramp with a large capacity travel lift, and space for extensive dry storage of yachts. By the way, with all of this water-side development completed, Fonatur is in the midst of a very big infrastructure project in the undeveloped land surrounding the harbour with the apparent intention of offering the land with new streets and utilities to a developer.

We had arranged to meet Dave on the dock at 9:30 in the morning and he would take us out to “No Problem” in his dinghy tender. Being Canadian, we were sure that we arrived on time, and while Cathy paid for the day's parking (55 pesos), I carried our bags out to the dock. As usual, we overpacked - knowing how changable the weather can be (especially on the water) we had some extra clothes, my camera, binoculars, some contributions to lunch and, of course, beverages! When all of this, and us, were loaded into the inflatable dinghy with Dave, we motored about a half a mile to where his boat was anchored.

There were about a dozen boats moored or at anchor in the “Waiting Room”. Most had been there long term and a few were transient; spending a few days or weeks before continuing their cruise up or down the Sea of Cortez. Based on their flags of origin, I would guess that about a third of the boats hailed from Canada and most of the rest were American. At other times, like Loretofest in early May, there can be upwards of 400 boats from near and far, enjoying a four day boater's festival of music and fun that draws the yachting community from all over the Sea of Cortez.

I mentioned that “No Problem” was a Motorsailor, which is a type of hybrid boat, as indicated by the name. To a casual observer, she looks much like the other sailboats anchored nearby, with a main mast and furled jib, except she has a substantial wheelhouse or cabin “amidships” with raised cabin roofs forward and aft. While she is fully equipped to sail, “No Problem” is designed to cruise extended passages under the power of her diesel engine, with the sailing capability as more of a fall-back alternative. Included in the design specifications is sufficient fuel capacity to travel from San Francisco Bay area down to the Sea of Cortez and back to San Francisco without refueling!

So it was with this experienced Skipper we set off for our day trip. After leaving the protected anchorage, we headed for Ilsa Carmen - the largest of several off-shore islands that protect the shore north and south of Loreto. It was a perfect day to be on the water; sunny with clear blue skies and a few wisps of clouds to give perspective. Light breezes meant that there were no sails visible on the few boats within sight. The water was almost glassy calm with gentle swells which must have travelled some great distance as there was no local conditions that could have caused them.

As we travelled NE at a comfortable 5+ knots, we could see Punta Nopolo in the distance, on the mainland shore, anchoring the colourful rim of homes that are the Villages of Loreto Bay. About mid-way to Carmen we encountered a small pod of dolphins. We saw up to four at a time, including a younger one. For about 10 or 15 minutes they played around the boat as we maintained our course and speed and were entertained by their grace and speed in the water.

Approaching the shores of Carmen we travelled north to Ballandra Bay, a small well protected bay open to the west, but surrounded on three sides by the hills of the island. There were two sailboats anchored in the calm water and a couple of open excursion boats, presumably from the Loreto Marina, that had carried over a group of about a dozen beachcomers who were exploring the beach. As we dropped anchor, a couple of fishers were leaving in their panga, hopefully with a succesful catch. We stayed on board and enjoyed a deck lunch of delicious roasted pork burritos and salad and watched the other boats and birds that we shared the anchorage with. One of the sailboats was taking advantage of the calm conditions to varnish the main mast while suspended from a bosun's chair - talk about hanging loose in the Baja!

The trip back to Puerto Escondido was aided by a light tail wind and so we arrived back in about two hours compared to three on the outbound trip - just in time to see the sun setting behind the La Giganta range. After another short dinghy ride back to the dock, we said farewell and many thanks for a perfect day to our Captain and host, and then we returned home to our Casablanca in Loreto Bay.

I have often heard it said by boat owners down here that at least half of the experience of Loreto is to be found out on the water - some might even say it's the best half! But what I know for sure is that being on the water on a perfect day like we had just experienced is certainly one of the best parts of Living Loreto.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Change is gonna come . . .

Yes, change can come, even way down here in Loreto - at least ripples of political change can reach the shores of Loreto Bay by way of our television sets. This week marked the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, the first elected President with African American ethnic roots. That fact didn't escape the notice of the ex-pat residents of Loreto Bay and the initive was taken by Liz and Jim in FN 383 to invite many of their neighbors to an Innaugural Brunch at their home Tuesday morning.

We were asked to bring a plate of food to share, and as you can see, the new administration was launched (lunched?) with a full tummy! There was even an “OBAMA” cake to help celebrate the event. Well over 20 people attended and we watched live TV coverage for about two hours until the lure of a table full of food proved to be a bigger draw than the news feed.

During the broadcast however, all attention was focussed on the events leading up to Obama's swearing in and speech. Although I would guess that Americans were in the majority at this event, there were lots of Canadians sharing the enthusiasm of the day and an air of celebration filled the room. As similar as the US and Canada are in so many ways, our political traditions and ceremonies are very different.
Compared to the incredible “pomp and circumstance” surrounding this presidential inauguration, the closest equivalent in Canada would be the swearing in of a new government cabinet which is presided over by our Governor General, (the Queen of England's representative) and takes place in their residence, Rideau Hall in Ottawa, in front of a crowd of maybe a couple of hundred invited guests, and with a TV audience that I'm sure would be much smaller than the live crowd filling the plaza that day in Washington.
Compared to the worldwide attention for Obama's day, estimated to be the largest single audience for a TV event in history, our modest and restrained affair seems very, you know, Canadian! And of course, the events on the steps of the Capitol were followed by the luncheon in “Statuary Hall” which sounds impressive. Even the lunch took on elements of high drama, when Senator Kennedy, (who had pledged to attend the ceremony, in spite of his health) was rushed off in an ambulance after suffering a seizure. And all of this was before the parade!
The dark side of such global attention in these days of war and terrorism, is the staggering security measures that are now necessary to protect the most powerful man in the world, which, unfortunately, are raised even higher by the colour of his skin. The Secret Service was quoted as saying that from now on, this President would be protected by bullet-proof glass at all times when he apppears in public venues. It was also reported that he was wearing protective clothing under his elegant topcoat, and that he was riding in a new Presidential limosine which had been made to heightened security standards by Cadillac. At what price, comes such power?
Gradually the action shifted upstairs to Liz and Jim's spacious terrace where it was a picture perfect day and we all were enjoying their fantastic view over the golf course and conversation over plates of delicious food. I also admired Jim's current project - a cedar strip kayak, built from scratch using a kit he brought with him from the US. The hull section appears to be almost complete, but Jim told us about the many steps ahead that will go into sealing and finishing the wood. The top half of the shell is built separately and then the two halves will be joined together. A truely impressive project, and someday this will no doubt be a showpiece kayak in the waters around Loreto Bay!
But the conversations on the terrace included more than Jim's handiwork. It seems that since the New Year, whenever two or more Loreto Bay residents get together it's not long before the conversation shifts to the latest news/rumour concerning the future ownership of our development. Earlier in the week, when I was thinking about this posting, I had hoped that there would have been some announcement by this time, so I could offer you all my thoughts about the outcome. However, since there has been no news as of the day of this post, I will tell you that on this Inauguaration Day much of the talk was about (appropriately enough) change.
Even as the new President has run for, campaigned on, and been elected to bring change to: the Office, his Country, and, as a result, the World, that wind of change is blowing pretty hard all the way down here in the Baja! For those of you who are familiar with our current situation, I ask for your forbearance for a moment.
The current majority owner of Loreto Bay is Citigroup Property Investors, who are actively negotiating the sale of the project with several prospective buyers. If you are interested in the outcome and are following any of the public or private sites, you, no doubt have heard several versions of the situation, and I don't want to turn my little space here into any sort of a forum for promoting or discounting any one of the many current possibilities.
However, I am struck by how a concept like change can simultaneously find relevance, both in the center of the world's power, and in a beautiful oasis of a few hundred homes clustered in one of the few pristine and beautiful places left in this part of the hemisphere where ordinary people can live extraordinary lives. Yes, change is also coming here to Loreto Bay.
As the world changes, and the economy changes, and those changes affect people, (past, current and future Homeowners here, included) Loreto will change. With a new Owner/Developer will come a new vision, new economics, and hopefully, new vitality and confidence. For those of us who have been involved here in Loreto Bay since the beginning, we have already seen much change. From wobbly chalk lines in the sand, through the various evolutions of the concept of sustainability, to restructuring, rethinking, and, perhaps too often, rebuilding; we've seen a lot of changes. The change we are anticipating now is probably the biggest yet in the history of our development, but it certainly won't be the last and there will almost certainly be bigger ones to come.
So change is here to stay (I rather like the sound of that!) here in Loreto Bay, in the Oval Office, and around the world and so I would like to leave you with a belated New Years wish: May the Change be with You! Because change is important part of Living Loreto.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Life's a Beach!

If you're lucky!

One of the best parts of Living Loreto is the beach, at sunrise. No, this isn't the same picture as the header of my blogsite, it was just taken one morning this week, about 7:15. When I woke up early that morning I decided it was a day to walk the beach, so we got into some “warm” clothes, (it's pretty chilly at dawn, this time of year) and headed out. The beach is only about 250 feet from our front door, past four or five neighbors' homes, through a fringe of unfinished custom homes, and then we're there.

In January the sun rises on the southern horizon, behind Punta Nopolo, and so looking east from the beach the water is glowing silver and gold with shades of blue, reflecting the sky which is just starting to colour. On the horizon, to the east, we see the rim of Isla Carmen, giving definition and perspective to the view. I'm glad that we have these offshore islands of Carmen, and Coronado further north, to split the sea from sky and provide a tangible horizon. A Pelican drifts across the sky, skimming the water, as graceful in flight as they are ungainly when perched on land.

As we look south to Punta Nopolo, (a volcanic conglomerate pile that rises over 150 feet from the south end of the beach) the coppery-gold sunburst is just beginning to break over the edge and flood the beach with light. The sea is almost glassy calm with a smooth line of surf gently cresting on the beach. The tide is quite low and falling, leaving a few stranded souvenirs behind, including this colourful starfish, perhaps wistfully pointing back towards the receding water that had been it's home until this morning.

There is also a lush green carpet of seaweed, which blooms periodically. This current species, thick in patches, looks like grass clippings left behind by some marine mower. It is fresh and clean smelling, not tuberous, like some of the types that collect at other times. But a day in the sun, until the evening tide rises, will probably start to turn it brown and sour, while providing protection and nourishment for the tiny insect life that thrives on the edge of land and water.

Now that the sun has cleared Punta Nopolo, Cathy and I cast 50 foot shadows down the beach and as we turn around again we see the first dog walker of the morning approaching out of the pale sunlight.
The Activity Shack is still shuttered from the night before, but the fleet of Kayaks are ready for another day of paddling in the shallow water off the Hotel beachfront, and on a calm morning like this they will probably be kept busy.

There is more seaweed as we reach the end curve of the beach where it joins the rocky outcrop, separated by the signature green of the golf course's current 6th hole. Before we leave the beach we turn and enjoy the view of the Village as it wraps back around the crescent that is now known as Loreto Bay.

As we walk along the shelf of rock under the cliff, a resting Pelican is framed against the sea and sky, catching a final snooze before starting another day of fishing and gliding. As we get closer, “he” is aware of our presence, but succeeds in ignoring us until we break some invisible personal boundary. Then, with a few beats of his powerful wings and a couple of awkward strokes of his webbed feet, this 20 plus pound, prehistoric throwback is launched into it's true element - thin air - to join his friends, who have already begun the day's ballet of diving for their breakfast.

Looking back towards the Inn, the sun is now beginning to hit the folds of the Sierra Gigante range, appearing deceptively lush and green from this distance. But we know that these slopes are dry at this time of year, as it's been months since the fall rains. However, on the rocky wall behind us there are still some hardy patches of greenery, managing to survive in crevasses, protected from the full heat of the summer sun when it shifts further north.

Walking out to the east end of Punta Nopolo we are still in shade, but the morning sun is full in the sky ahead and reflecting in the patchwork of tide pools that spot the rock shelf we are on. As we retrace our path back, rocks frame the Inn and the southern extent of the Village homes, now in full morning sun. Another vista is ahead, a Pelican accenting the Inn's beachfront, with rows of lounges waiting for the sun worshipers who will congregate there soon.

But the Pelicans aren't the only ones working this early in the morning - the golf course's grounds crew are practising their maintenance ritual on the early morning greens, manicuring them to the treacherous finish that will plague players for the rest of the day. As we pass in front of the Inn again, we see the first Kayakers of the day hitting the water and paddleing out into the flat calm bay.

Further down the beach, we see one of the few construction crews that is currently working, beginning another day on a custom home. As we pass the Posadas, frozen where they stand since our return in the Fall, we wonder when work will begin on them again and when the storage area that will someday be the Beach Club will be cleared for that project to begin.

But then we are home again, after ushering in another perfect morning on the Baja. This is mid-January? It's hard to believe! But that too is another wonderful part of “Living Loreto”.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

To Market, To Market . . .

One of the biggest changes in Loreto since we took possession of our casa three years ago was the availability of good quality food in the stores. When we first started “homemaking” here it was expected that we would have to travel an hour and a half south to Constitution, the next town with a “Super Lay” to do our main shopping. For those of you not familiar with Mexican brand names, Super Lay is not a large potato chip, but close approximation to a North American supermarket. However, this is not to be confused with a Super Mercado, which is any small neighborhood convenience store, mainly selling beer.

In any event, the shopping in Loreto was pretty dismal. El Pescador was the biggest store, and had a very Mexican selection of canned and dry goods - an entire aisle of canned beans, for example. But the meat counter was “challenging” and frankly smelled bad, and the “fresh” produce section wasn't. There were other stores, but their selection was worse, and so we only counted on shops in town for a few staples like milk and bread (Bimbo) and what we could find by chance.

When we first started spending time in Loreto, in addition to the 3 hour round-trip travelling time to Constitution, it was usually necessary to rent a car, adding substantially to the cost of the groceries as well as the day out of the holiday that was spent in the process. The change for the better began when we discovered the weekend markets a little over two years ago. The first location was on some bare land off the highway at the north end of town, where vendors set up temporary tarp-covered stalls. The following year, it moved to the big arroyo separating the south end of Loreto from the “suburb” of Zaragosa, where there was more room for expansion.

In addition to the location changing, the market day has changed several times. Originally, it was on Saturdays. Then, without apparent notice (to us anyway) it was changed to Sundays. There was an immediate increase in traffic following this, because most labourers have to work on Saturday mornings and so they could now attend when it switched to Sundays. Then, this fall it switched back to Saturdays for several weeks before returning to Sundays. Confused? Try arriving with a list for the week's shopping, only to find a bare dirt field, where you expected to see a couple of dozen stalls and several hundred people milling around.

In any event, for the time being, the Market is on Sunday mornings. The layout is simple. There is a corridor of booths, perhaps a quarter of a mile long running east to west from the main road connecting Loreto to Zaragosa. Parking runs parallel to the stalls and it is usually hard to find a space during the market hours, which reputedly start about sunrise, or as soon as the vendors are set-up, and runs until about noon. We usually try to arrive between 9 and 10 and this is prime time, with a throng of people filling most of the corridor between the stalls.

Although our prime target for shopping at the market is fruits and vegetables, that's not all that there is availabile. In fact, there are only about a half a dozen “green grocers” and these are some of the larger stalls. It is an acquired skill to properly shop these vendors. In the first place,
probably 80% of their produce is the same. A lot of it now comes from the US, although we sometimes see things like strawberries that are grown in Mexico and packaged for the export market, in some cases the same brand names we see in Calgary. Other staples, like tomatoes and onions are local, (i.e. Mexican, possibly from the Baja) and other things, like an edible type of cactus, are certainly local and an acquired taste. One of my favorite indulgences are oranges. Grown locally, (there are big orchard plantations check out what is special at any one spot or another. One of the big comparison points is lettuce, more particularly Romaine, and finding who has the best and freshest is a good start to choosing where we will shop. Once we have made our decision, we usually pick up most of what we need at the first stop. It is all self-serve, with boxes and trays full of the various fruits and vegetables and rolls of plastic bags hanging above or laying nearby. There are no prices on anything, so when you have finished selecting and have an armful of bags (unless that vendor is one that has shopping baskets available) you then get in line for your turn at the “cashier”. Your bags are then weighed, sort of. Over time we have learned that certain vendors tend to “accent” the weight by not removing their hand from the scale while weighing and often, the pointer is still wildly fluctuating when they remove the item. But in fact, because we have no idea what the prices are, or what we are in fact being charged, whether the weight is accurate is of secondary importance. After each item is weighed a figure is punched into the ubiquitous calculator, and when everything has been added up and bagged the calculator is handed back to the customer and the transaction is paid for.

While I don't want to appear paranoid, I am resigned to my belief that although we may not actually pay a higher price than others, the weight and calculation of the totals is at least “rounded up” in our case, as compared to the local Mexican customers. And - you know what? - I'm OK with that, to a point, because the fact is we can afford to pay more than some of the other customers. However, there was a case, a few weeks back, that we had bought a couple of bags of assorted produce and the “bill” came to over 300 pesos (approximately $30 US) which seemed steep for what we had bought and so as a result, we have boycotted that stall since. Not that I expect he or his heavy thumbs have noticed!

Although we are there mainly for the fruit and vegetables, that's not all there is at the Market. Originally, we used to refer to it as the “Farmer's” Market, but since more than three quarters of the vendors sell other things, it's really more of a Flea Market, so we now just call it “the Market”. We have also heard it referred to as the “swap meet”, even though one only ever “swaps” dinero for goods. In fact, there is pretty much everything that a family needs available here. While some of the veggie stands sell whole chickens and parts (semi-frozen, if you're lucky) there are one or two butchers with stands as well. This is where our cultures tend to collide. Our North American standard of shrink wrapped, stryrofoam trayed meat with absorbant pads underneath soaking up any errant juices, is a long way from the reality of open air, unrefrigerated tables of meat, perhaps with a well used transparent plastic drop sheet cover for protection from flies and dust.

But that is not the most challenging. Personally, I find the “Goat Guy” my threshhold. On his table in front he has several containers of different types of goat cheese, and it's pretty good cheese, although a bit bland to our taste. However, hanging from his stand's awning is usually one or two goat carcasses- complete, except for their skin, which leaves them looking like some kind of anatomical modelfor biology class. To be fair, I have heard that it is good goat meat, and that goat is a traditional celebratory meal, sort of like turkey, for us. But I don't know how long I will be living in the Baja before I will be in the market for a well hung goat.

In addition to the food stalls, there are several diner-style establishments, specializing in different foods cooked on the premesis, including the usual range of tacos, enchiladas etc., but also small individual pizza-type pastries with various fillings. There is always at least one stall advertising “hay menudo” (translation: getcher menudo here), which I understand is a kind of soup, reputed to be a morning-after cure for hangovers, and is invariably popular particularly on a Sunday morning. There are also a number of roaming vendors selling ice cream, various flavoured drinks, and “nut men” wheeling around 3' x 6' carts full of perfectly arranged 2 gallon sized bags of nuts and candies that they will weigh out in small quantities for the constantly hovering crowd of kids that seem to follow them everywhere.

But it's not all about the food. A disproportionate number of stalls are either partly, or completely devoted to shoes. All kinds of shoes - women's high heels, (it appears the higher the better, but where they manage to wear them on these streets is beyond me) men's shoes, athletic, workboots and some very handsome cowboy boots in exotic leathers, and of course kids shoes in all sizes shapes and colours. Without wanting to sound like an amateur sociologist, I have a theory that in a “Second World” society, like Mexico, shoes represent an important step up the economic ladder (no pun intended). After your basic living requirements are met, I suspect a better pair of shoes is a high priority and this is confirmed by the space devoted to them at the market.

Probably the largest group of stalls deal in a variety of second hand or nearly new goods. Household goods, electronics, small furnishings, tools, and clothing cover the main categories, but on a stroll through the market, one can invariably come across a one-of-a-kind item that beggars the imagination as to where it came from, how it got here, and WHY? Like the guy without a stall, displaying police car rooftop emergency lights on a blanket. As we passed by, the local police were his most interested customers, although I think talk more turned to where he got it rather than how much it was. Another big category is kids toys, usually, but not always, new. Often very cheap and colourful, no X-boxes or Guitar Heros here, but simple traditional toys and games that a hard working family can afford to pay, probably less than a dollar for, to buy a treat for their kids. Sort of like the stuff you would find at the local dollar store.

So that is a visit to our weekly market. In fact, if you are reading this on a Sunday morning, that is probably where I am right now, unless, of course, they've changed the day again. While aspects of the market seem disorganized, verging on chaotic, it is an economic system that works. It provides most of the essentials in one place and in a walk past the stalls it is possible for a Mexican family to shop for most of their weekly needs in an hour or so. All this as well as meeting and visiting with friends and neighbours, exchanging gossip, giving teenagers somewhere to see and be seen, and little kids an exciting busy place full of sights, sounds and smells to run around free and safe in. And by early afternoon, it all disappears into a motley series of vans, trucks, and cars to go who-knows-where. But it will all return again next Sunday before dawn - and that is part of Living (and eating) Loreto!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A great beginning to the New Year!

Well, we're here, Living Loreto again, after a three week sojourn back in a very wintery Canada, where it was the first coast to coast white Christmas in THIRTY-SEVEN years! Needless to say, although we had a good visit with friends and family while we were there, it was with a real sense of relief that we returned to near-perfect weather, blue skies, and gentle breezes and with a renewed assurance as to why we choose to live here in the winter!

We attended a wonderful New Year's Eve party which christened the latest beach-front home to be completed. Our hostess and neighbour had brought a professional entertainer all the way from the Maritimes and with a generous buffet table of contributions from many of the other neighbours, the scene was set for a memorable end to the old year and an enthusiastic beginning to the new.

On the day after New Year's day we were pleasantly surprised with a call from one of our first friends in Loreto, who was phoning to invite us to come on a hike with her. Whatever other vague plans we had had for the day were swept aside by hurried preparations, packing a lunch, charging the camera, changing into hiking clothes and then we were off, heading for the hills.

Arroyos are the off-road trails of the Baja - dry river beds that provide a manageable path through the desert scrub. After parking off the highway we climbed down into the arroyo and headed toward the mountains. One of the mistaken images I used to have, was that deserts are vast expanses of sand and dunes, with nothing green or growing in sight. Our surroundings, while they're dry 10 months of the year, and technically could be called desert-like, are far from barren wastelands.

Although harder for the untutored eye to see, the life is not limited to flora, but there is also fauna, like our gecco friend here, who was actually about 8 or 9 inches long, but could have been half that size, or possibly even double it, depending on the photograph.

We also met several groups of well fed cattle, free ranging and foraging for themselves, apparently successfully, mainly due to the plentiful access to water.

Yes, there is water in this desert, lots of it, if you look in the right places. These arroyos are cleared annually by the torrential runoff that can result from the downpours in the Fall, but for most of the rest of the year there can be stretches of flowing stream separated by dry gravel bed. This appearing and disappearing water is a result of variations in the geology that cause the water to surface and then return underground but continue to flow.

Places where the water is more constant, can cause an oasis to develop, where huge towering palms grow wild and are only “groomed” by the wind. The other vegetation is also magnificent; rattan and other bamboo-family species and luxurantly flowering shrubs grow thick where water and soil combine to provide the necessary conditions to turn a desert into a garden.

As we travelled further up the arroyo we passed several Rancheros along the way. They may have been the owners of the cattle we had passed earlier, but they were definitely in the goat business as was evident from the pen and it's residents, who were roaming freely and noisily as we passed. It was amazing to realize that these self-sufficient settlements were apparently thriving in what was, to my eyes, such a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Eventually, we reached the goal of our journey, the caves, or cuevas, which was the headwater of the arroyo stream we had been travelling. Our friend hadn't mentioned this feature to us during our hike and so it was a wonderful bonus to see our destination appear around the corner ahead.

An apparently solid wall of rock, pierced by a winding slit, carved by unimaginable volumes of water

over eons of time

to produce a tranquil

magical passage with

pools of cool clear water

(unbelievably enough,

populated by minnows

and other waterlife, the

origin of which one can

only imagine!)

After a trail lunch of sandwiches, oranges and some Canadian dark chocloate left over from Christmas, we started our return trip down the arroyo. After the abundance of water and vegetation, the return to the stark desert cacti, and their own resident population, was another of the contrasts that make this desert such an hypnotic place to be. It also served as a reminder of what the vast majority of the land is like, except for a very few special places, one of which had been our priviledge to have just visited.

My message this week goes beyond the travelogue that I have just shared with you. It is also about how the whole trip came about. Unplanned, unanticipated and all the more wonderful and memorable because of it. In Canada, such a trip would have probably entailed more than a week of planning and preparation. Here, typical of how spontaneity can add zest to the way of life, a call from a friend leads to an adventure and an opportunity to get to know each other and our surroundings in a special way.

In fact, one of my resolutions this year is to explore some of the hidden secrets of
the Baja where we live, and learn more about what is beyond our neighbourhood and community.

So, how appropriate was it, that on the first day after the New Year, we were taken to a place unlike anything we have ever seen before, and to do so in the company of a friend, whom we got to know so much better over the afternoon we spent together. What a wonderful gift to begin the New Year with, and another dimension of Living Loreto - it`s good to be back home!