Sunday, February 22, 2009

Visiting Privileges

(This week there are no pictures, I guess it's more of a pholosophical posting, and I hope you'll enjoy!)

Last week I mentioned that we had visitors here in Loreto Bay, so this week I thought I would share how the hosting experience affects us Living Loreto.

Since we first chose Loreto Bay and started talking to friends and relatives about it, the subject of visits has come up frequently. “Won't it be great when you are living there and we can come down to visit!” or words to that effect, were part of many of these conversations.

For someone living through a northern winter, the idea of having a friend with a home in sunny Mexico has a great appeal. And what's not to like? For the same airfare you would pay to get to almost any warm climate, there's the opportunity to share our home (and table) and experience a new exotic location without the hassle and expense of an unknown hotel or restaurant situation.

For us who are living here, there is the appeal of having friends and family sharing the place we love and live in, and the excitement that comes from introducing them to what makes us feel that way about it. Besides, we have new playmates for a while and the existing relationship that we have with them is enriched and deepend by that experience.

What we have come to understand, is that while almost everyone is enthusiastic while sitting back at home in Canada, it is a much smaller percentage that actually take the steps to make it happen. First of all is the travel. There are currently four flights a week arriving in Loreto, all by one carrier, Alaska Airlines (and their partner Horizon Air) on a direct flight from Los Angeles. Loreto has the only International Airport between La Paz, a four hour drive south, and several other cities more than a day's drive north, it serves a large area of south central Baja. This means that the demand for the available seats can be high, particularly during the prime winter season.

Couple this with the fact that due to the late morning departure time from LAX, it is usually necessary for Canadians to overnight on the trip, which adds to the expense and travel time required and increases the overall stress that is associated with air travel these days. Let's face it, between security, airport congestion, schedule changes, reduced in-flight services etc. “they” have pretty much managed to squeeze all of the pleasure out of airline travel, so any trip can be a challenging experience.

Then there is the “Mexico Factor”. When you say Mexico to an average North American these days, it's not uncommon for questions about safety and security to arise. After all, the media, always in search of grist for the 24 hour news mill, has been carrying some rather negative stories in the past year or two about the current state of the “drug war” that is undeniably occuring in some parts of the country. Alarming statistics about deaths and violence associated with this situation stand out in most of the coverage that is distributed north of the border.

For us, living near the small (12,000) town of Loreto 2/3 of the way down the Baja penninsula, this news takes on a different perspective. While it would be naive to ignore the truth of the situation, it is tempered by the reality of where we are and what our day to day experience is. The Baja is NOT mainland or border town Mexico! It is a remote and isolated part of Mexico that has always been considered somewhat separate and unique by the people and the government, who are in the much more populated and potentially dangerous mainland part of the country.

Having said that, there is no denying that the Federal Army inspection posts (of which there are 5 or 6 on the highway between here and Tijuana) take their job very seriously, any question of which is quickly dispatched by the obvious presence of some pretty heavy arms at the ready. However, on a positive note, we live our day to day life here without almost any contact or awareness of the reported “war” going on elsewhere in the country. The occasional sighting of a camoflaged “Humvee” with serveral uniforms picking up some groceries in town is just about the extent of our exposure. The fact remains - this isn't Florida or Hawaii - but from my limited experience in those places and my growing experience here, I feel safer in Loreto than I think I would in many major resort cities in the US and certainly many places I have visited in Caribbean.

Anyway, once our guests arrive, the fun begins. Their first acclimatization is the airport in Loreto, or, by the time you read this perhaps I should say, the “old” airport. Arriving planes are usually parked on the apron to the runway right in front of the brand new airport building, which has been sitting, apparently complete, but unused for about six months. (Can you imagine a major infrastructure project north of the border being completed, but left unused, for any significant time? There would be outrage and investigation media exposure, here people shrug, shake their head and say: Quien sabe? Who knows?) The first step is to line up for immigration clearance. Visitors are warned to check that they receive their Tourist Visa slip back from the Immigration Officer - sometimes the officials “forget” and then have to charge you $50 for a new visa before you can depart.

Once the immigration clearance is complete then you claim your bags. When our guests arrived nearly two weeks ago, the luggage conveyor belt in the old terminal had been removed, purportedly to the new terminal. Perhaps a sign of progress, and certainly an inconvenience to arriving passengers at the existing arrival hall. Once all your bags have been accounted for, you have to put them all (including purses and carry-on) through the big X-ray scanner. I'm not sure why it is necessary here in Loreto to scan the bags AFTER they have safely come OFF the flight, but that's the way they do it. After surviving the crush at the x-ray machine and collecting your bags at the other end of the scanner, you present the customs official with your declaration and then push the infamous Red/Green button that lights up a crosswalk-type light. Red means your bags get checked and green means you are free to go - almost. The final gauntlet is getting past the time-share salesmen that have apparently bribed their way into a no-man zone between the secure arrivals area and the public part of the terminal. They helpfully ask if you need ground transportation, and if you answer to the positive, the pitch begins. Our guests just politely declined and proceeded to our waiting open arms.

By the way, all of the procedure described in the previous paragraph takes place in a room that probably measures less than 2000 square feet - not a lot of room to manouver for the over 150 passengers and ground personnel, 300 pieces of luggage, various pieces of equipment all cordoned off by tape barriers. The new terminal can't be opened soon enough!

Driving new arrivals back to Casablanca from the airport can be a exercise in contrasts. First of all, everyone is excited about finally arriving after a long trip. First impressions of the weather are usually positive, it's almost always warm and sunny and the air, fresh off the ocean a hundred yards away, is a tonic. The road out to the highway is not a great introduction, a pretty barren landscape with a few industrial buildings. Once we are on the highway, the combination of the Sierra La Giganta mountain range and the ocean with Isla Carmen in the background probably makes the greatest impression, but what I tend to see is the litter and crushed concrete fill at the side of the road.

A similar thing happens driving into the Loreto Bay development. Guests are charmed by the multi-hued adobe style villas trimmed with wrought iron, and the beautifully landscaped flagstone paths winding between the homes. I see that the main street is partially torn up with pot-holes and patches of sand and that there are many unfinished raw plaster buildings with holes where doors and windows will be someday.

The best part of having guests, is that they cause us to see the familiar with fresh eyes and we become tourists again in our own town, sharing the places and things we enjoy the most but that we never seem to have the time or inspiration to do when we are on our own. For them it is hopefully a much richer experience than a typical resort vacation, because for a week or so they are actually living in a foreign place, not just visiting in a controlled and contrived hotel/resort environment.

The fact is that one can become jaded living in a place like this. We tend to become focused on day-to-day issues and challenges; house maintenance, trying to find something that isn't available here, often letting dust, noise or lack of progress in the development obscure the fact that we live in a place that is as close to paradise as many normal people could aspire to. Seeing and experiencing through the eyes of our guests is one of the best ways for us to fall in love with where we live all over again, and why we love to share it with those lucky people who take the time and make the effort to come. That too is part of Living Loreto!