Sunday, April 26, 2009

Privileges in Paradise

This week I thought I would share with you the events of the past week as an example of how simple things become part of the lifestyle here in Loreto Bay.

I drove to La Paz again the middle of this week, some of you may have read a previous post a couple of weeks ago about an earlier trip, “La Paz that Refreshes”. Part of the reason for the first trip was to register for paying income taxes here in Mexico, a necessary (and fortunate) requirement for me, now that I am selling Real Estate here in Loreto Bay. While I was able to accomplish three out of the four steps of the process on my earlier trip, it was necessary to make a second trip to complete the final step, hence the need for the return visit. Now it has been decades since I have had to set up any such similar account back in Canada so it is hard to draw any comparison between the procedure here and there, but suffice to say that Mexican bureaucracy is a “challenge” at the best of times, and when it comes to taxation, it is never the “best of times”. Having said that, other than the fact that the procedure cannot be completed in one session and that it can only be done in the State Capitol (La Paz) which is a four hour drive one way from here in Loreto, I found it to be a surprisingly efficient and high tech process.

Since both of these trips to the tax offices required booking an appointment time days in advance, I was lucky to be able to get a morning appointment on the day we were expecting a visitor, who was arriving at the airport in La Paz. So after completing my government business first thing in the morning, I then headed for the airport, stopping enroute for a mandatory visit at the Walmart, that I had mentioned in my last posting, to pick up a short and diverse list of “ungettables” here in Loreto. I then arrived at the airport and met our visitor, who had just finished collecting their bags 10 minutes earlier. Remarkably efficient timing all round!

Part of this story, of course, is the circumstances of our guest's visit. When we arrived back in Loreto after returning to Canada for Christmas, we brought with us a brand new, rather large and complicated telescope which was my wife's pride and joy. She had long been looking forward to having her own instrument to view the myriad of stars, planets and other heavenly bodies that are so dramatic in the night sky down here. However, as we soon found out, large and complicated are not always good things when it comes to new delicate optical equipment.

So that this blog doesn't become all about the trials and tribulations that come with a faulty telescope, suffice to say, we had to return the whole unit - which comes in it's own shock-proof carrying case the size (and weight) of a large suitcase – back to California for repairs. The northern leg was accomplished through the kindness of friends and neighbors who were travelling that way early in the New Year and, with the help of a good friend in the Los Angeles area it was delivered to the Manufacturer (who will remain nameless!). That same friend picked up the repaired (?) unit months later when it was ready for the return trip. Fortunately, the same friend was able to combine a stop in La Paz on a business trip he was planning to Mexico City and offered to bring the telescope with him that far, in exchange for spending a long weekend with us here in Loreto. As complicated as that may sound, it was mucho simpler than arranging to ship said telescope from Irvine CA to Loreto BCS!

So, now loaded with the refurbished telescope we headed for Loreto and passed the four hour journey enjoyably in conversation, catching up on each others lives and interests. Conversation, on an extended road trip is one of the best ways I know to pass the time and miles (kilometers) and since it had been months since I had seen our friend we had plenty to keep us occupied for the return trip.

Upon reaching Loreto Bay, we unpacked and “freshened up” before heading into town to join my wife and her new musical partner, another Loreto Bay neighbor, at their debut performance for a friend's Open House that evening. We joined a diverse group of “Townies” and “Bayites” at the party and enjoyed great hospitality, good snacks, and great music for a couple of hours before most of the group decamped to a local restaurant, which we took over entirely and had a feed of delicious pizza, making for another memorable evening in Loreto.

The next morning, we had arranged with our friend Ben (Captain Benito) to meet him on his beautiful Trawler-style boat “Alley Cat” back in the marina in town where we departed for a days cruise. While the weather here has shifted from spring to early summer, with temperatures reaching the mid-80's, that morning was particularly perfect. The water was as calm
as glass with a light breeze to keep things comfortable and we thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely cruise back to Puerto Escondito where we dropped off one other passenger and then headed across the channel to Danzante Island and a perfectly beautiful single boat anchorage in the aptly named Honeymoon Cove, where we enjoyed a boat lunch and relaxed on board interspersed with some snorkeling and beach combing before heading back to Escondito where the Alley Cat is kept moored. After making the boat secure we dinghied ashore and stopped at Porto Bello, the dockside restaurant/bar for a couple of cool ones before heading back into town to pick up the car and return home, to enjoy a quiet evening feeling relaxed and weary, but invigorated by our memorable day on the water.

The following afternoon we introduced our friend to the delights of playing the Loreto Bay golf course. His appreciation was even greater, considering the fact that on previous visits he had last experienced the course in it's original layout and condition. While the surrounding scenery was still spectacular on the old course, there is no comparison with the quality and condition of the course now. While I do admit to both some local bias and a limited experience of other Baja courses, I have it on good authority from many other players I have spoken with, that this course now ranks very highly with other (much more costly) courses in Cabo and we are all looking forward with great expectations to the opening of the second nine holes, which is about to happen in the next week. (Stay tuned, loyal readers, you may read a review about the balance of the course on these pages in the near future!)

This morning Cathy and I were committed to attending our new Condominium Sub Regime inaugural Annual General Meeting. Perhaps that sounds like dry stuff to most of you, but it has been one of the major focuses of our time and energy (particularly - with many thanks – that of my wife's, who has been responsible for much of the communications and the acquisition of dozens of proxies). While we were involved in this grassroots exercise of democracy and home ownership our guest was occupied with more idyllic pursuits on the beach and kayaking in the calm waters off the hotel.

After reconnecting for a quick lunch Cathy and our guest headed off for another round of golf, while I, your loyal scribe, sat down to the laptop and attempted to recreate for you all here, a brief summary of what has been a remarkable, but not extraordinary, few days of life here in Loreto Bay. Which brings me to my point for this installment of the Blog – life is not so much about what you do, but where you do it.

The circumstance of driving eight hours round-trip to pick someone up at the airport would be unheard of in most urban areas where we live, but when you can spend hours in deep conversation with a good friend who you don't see often enough, while driving through some of the most spectacular scenery on this continent, it is a privilege not a hardship. When an Open House at a friend's house turns into a musical concert and impromptu dinner party for over a dozen people with a great restaurant to ourselves, it becomes a cherished memory for years to come. When a day's boat outing takes place on a perfect day of crystal clear waters, sightings of seals many waterfowl, a passing pod of frolicking dolphins, and ends up in a pristine anchorage that could grace the cover of any yachting magazine it becomes another highlight in blessed lifestyle. When a simple round of golf becomes a series of mental scrapbook pictures, made even more memorable by the rare luxury of playing on an immaculate course without another player in sight it takes the sport into an almost spiritual plane. And when even a dry administrative meeting becomes a bonding experience of community-building among the fellow travellers that are actively creating the very place that they are living in, the rewards for the time and effort involved pay back a return many times the investment.

All of these ordinary events, combined over a few short days, and happening in this extraordinary place, add up to an experience that is my unique privilege, the privilege of “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Drive to Mulege

I have a special treat for my regular readers this week. My good friend Dee, who wrote the guest posting last December about her mule trip has offered to contribute another story about her travels in the Baja. This week she tells about her first visit to Mulege, the next town on the highway north from Loreto and the special memories she has from that trip. I hope you enjoy this glimpse of another part of the beautiful Baja.

The first time that I ever visited Loreto was in January, and I tried to make the drive to Mulege with some friends. I had heard about this place somewhere and wanted to see the coastal oasis town, north of beautiful Bahia Conception. Our driver for the trip was my friend Don, who had the rental car. After we started our trip Don realized that the fuel tank was low, he had forgotten to fill up before we left Loreto. We knew that there was nowhere to stop for gas until we reached Mulege, but we weren't sure how far it was. Along the way, we asked people how long it would take to get to Mulege three different times and they always responded “20 minutes.” Finally, after passing a place called Requeson Beach (which we called the Cottage Cheese Beach because we didn’t know how to translate it.) and coming up on Santispec, another beach area, Don panicked. We stopped at the roadside bar there for cold drinks and then headed back to Loreto. We were later to find out that wher we had stopped, we were, in fact, about 20 minutes from Mulege, just like we had been told..

My next visit to Loreto was the following May, but I was still wondering what Mulege was like. Again, in a small tin-can-econobox rental car, I headed north with my friend, Diane. Retracing my earlier trip, we passed through the military checkpoint north of Loreto, across the high desert plateau, and down to the shoreline at the south end of Bahia Conception and the series of beaches we had passed the first time. A little way past “Cottage Cheese Beach”, at the entrance to El Coyote Beach we saw four people standing by the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. They looked like an interesting group. All gringos with sun hats, carrying big duffel bags. Diane and I kind of glanced at them and kept on driving. Less than a quarter of a mile up the road, I said, “ I think I’ll go back and pick them up…my father would have.” I know Diane…we travel well together. I have known her for about twenty years and I knew that she would be up for about anything. Her response was, “My father would have, too!”

Diane’s father was in the Air Force and traveled around a great deal. My father drove a truck from age 16 until age 25 when he started his own trucking company. For the rest of his life, he continued to have “trucker’s blood.” He would drive for hours with us three kids and my Mom on vacations. All of us whining, “can we stop now? Can we please stop now? That hotel looks has a pool!!” Nope, we didn’t stop until he was good and ready. He didn’t care about our moans and groans. But in those simpler and less fearful days when I was growing up, he did care about his other fellow travellers. He and his brothers liked to be “guardians of the road,” they were always picking up hitchhikers, helping stalled vehicles and whoever else might need help. So now on this beautiful, but barren and isolated stretch of Baja highway I was reminded of his good example and knew what we had to do.

I found a place to turn the car around, went back and pulled into the access road to El Coyote Beach. Now our little rental car could hold three in the back, in a pinch, but we didn’t think we should leave anyone alone standing on the road so Diane opened the passenger door, jumped out, and yelled, “We’ll take TWO.” One of the hitchhikers shouted back, “We were hoping for FOUR!” I glanced at the tiny back seat and thought - its Mexico - what the hey! I said, “okay. C’mon.”

I opened up the trunk for their bags and they all jumped in the backseat, and like most things in Mexico, it worked out. The men sat with the women on their laps. We all introduced ourselves, Roy and Marilyn and Bruce and Alene, and headed north to Mulege. They said that they were “cruisers,” people who lived-aboard their boats most of the year, cruising from place to place. These two couples told us they had met on the water and had been cruising together, each on their own boats, for several months. They were hitching up to Mulege to do their laundry and buy some groceries. They said that they had never been there either.

By the time we got to Mulege, I felt really comfortable with this group and I said, “ You know, we are just here to explore and have lunch…We can give you a ride back.” They were thrilled. We made a plan to meet in a few hours. Of course, since Mulege is so small we ran into them several different times. We met at the appointed time and none of us were ready to leave. We made another plan. This time when we met, they really wanted to buy us an ice cream for all our trouble. I said that I really didn’t want an ice cream. They persisted by saying that they really wanted to do something for me…SO I said, “OK, I want to see your boat.” “Fine by us,” they all agreed.

We managed to get everything back into the car again, including the groceries they had purchased, and drove back to the bay where we had picked them up and found a place to park the car. Diane and I climbed into the little dinghy with Bruce and Alene. Marilyn and Roy told us that they would go and unload their stuff and then come and meet us back on Bruce’s boat. They said that their boat was nothing special - that the boat that we really should see was Bruce’s. So we rode with Bruce and Alene and all their groceries and laundry and I realized that the rental car wasn't all that small after all.

We scrambled aboard Bruce’s bright red trimaran called Cherry Migration, after a children’s book he had written. They unpacked and got organized while Diane and I explored the unbelievably large amount of living that was concealed in the three hulls with three bedrooms and two baths and the large salon area above water, I had never been on a boat anything like this before. After our brief tour we joined our hosts in the fully equiped galley area fitted with all of the appliances you would expect in a luxurious home while Bruce whipped up a rum punch with fresh fruit. This galley was adjoining the main living/dining salon where there was comfortable seating for 6 – 8 with flat panel video and a state of the art sound system. When we all had our drinks we climbed to the upper deck cockpit just as Roy and Marilyn were pulling up in their little dinghy.

We sat around and learned more about each other. They turned out to be the nicest people. Roy was a doctor from Sonoma. He shared a practice with a doctor who liked to have the summers off. This was perfect. It gave Roy and Marilyn the winters to cruise around Mexico. Marilyn was a retired hospital administrator.

To me, Bruce was the most fascinating. As mentioned earlier he is a children’s book author. He named his boat after his first book which was about cherries. He took the first $500 that he made as a writer to buy his first boat, over fifteen years ago. He sometimes worked as a technical writer for a software company in San Diego just to earn some quick bucks. He and Alene had met about 6 months before on a Cruiser’s personal ad website. They had been cruising together for the past three months after Alene had returned from working on a boat in the Carribean. It turns out that she is from the same area of Ohio as me.

Alas this idylic afternoon, floating at anchor in a breathtakingly beautiful bay, getting to know interesting people, thousands of miles from any of our homes, had to end too soon. I was conscious of the remaining drive back to Loreto and the failing light meant it was time to hit the road because, even though this was one of my first trips driving in the Baja, I knew that I didn’t want to drive back to Loreto in the dark.

But it was a magical and memorable day. I kept in touch with Bruce and Alene for about a year afterward. I will never drive to Mulege without thinking about the day that Diane and I picked up hitchhikers just because it was something our fathers would have done.

Thank you Dee, for sharing a special memory, about the serendipity that can happen here, how strangers can become friends in an afternoon and a simple event can become a memory for years into the future, this too is truly part of “Living Loreto!”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Primavera has sprung!

Quiet! - That is the overwhelming sensation as I sit on the roof terrace Friday morning of Samana Santa, or Holy Week, here in Loreto Bay Mexico.

This week is one of the most important religious holidays here in Mexico, an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and today almost all work has ceased in the Loreto Bay neighbourhood. Aside from the occasional car passing by on the Paseo, the most significant sound is birdsong. These sweet sounds that are normally drowned out by the bustling activity that goes on six days a week are an indication of the many birds that have been attracted to this development as a result of the extensive landscaping and addition of many fountains and water features. Our development has truly become an oasis in the middle of the desert-like environment that surrounds us, between the shores of the Sea of Cortez and the Sierra La Giganta mountain range.

It is a wonderful moment to reflect on the natural beauty of our surroundings, further enhanced by the unusually “soft” weather today. Typically, most visitors from northern climates set a high value on clear blue skies and hot sunny weather – particularly when their weather back home is still struggling to shake off the last dregs of a hard winter. While that sort of postcard weather is typical for this part of the Baja, occasionaly, like today, we are treated to a rare overcast day. The temperature is a comfortable 80 degrees and the combination of calm and clouds makes for a particularly restful condition that I have come to appreciate, as much as my Mexican friends do. Part of this appreciation comes from the knowledge that the bright sun, blue skies and warmer tempertatures will return, probably tomorrow, and for now, the change is refreshing and relaxing.

The combination of quiet surroundings and calm “soft” weather creates a perfect environment to appreciate some of the subtleties of what is being created here all around us. Living here for months at a time, one tends to get swept up in the day to day challenges of home ownership and maintenance, the current “battles” over the impact of adjacent construction or the ongoing work to complete and or maintain common property areas and we lose sight of the inherent beauty and recreational opportunities being created here. Days like today make it clear how much has been accomplished towards the dream that brought all of us homeowners together in the first place, and puts the shortcomings and frustrations that are inevitable in the creation a magical village like this, more into proportion.

The warmer weather has brought other changes to our surroundings. The Sisus vines that cover many stucco walls in the village are growing again, after having lost many of their leaves over the past few months. Now fresh new leaves and tendrills are sprouting out of what appeared to be dead wood only a few weeks ago. Our palm tree in the side garden is no longer a “baby”. This specimen has grown 8 – 10 feet in the three years since it was planted and now for the first time it is putting out spikes that will be fertilized and produce seeds.

Probably the most exciting new development in our garden is the mango tree that is planted just outside our front door. Ever since it was planted over three years ago, I have been very disappointed with it's scruffy appearance and few chewed up leaves. That changed this fall when we returned to find it proudly sporting a full “head” of hundreds of lush leaves. A month or two ago flowering crowns sprouted at the end of it's many branches and now each of those crowns are studded with dozens of tiny lima bean sized mangos, making for a total of well over a hundred “potential” mangos. I don't remember where I heard the phrase “an embarassment of mangos” but it is the most apt description I can think of for this apparent bumper crop. Now I am beginning to wonder how this now fertile tree will possibly be able to support the combined weight of all of this fruit as it grows and reaches maturity. I have heard that harvest time is late summer, so I don`t even know if we will be here to enjoy this bounty, but I imagine that whoever is around at that time will take full advantage of the opportunity.

As the afternoon advanced the clouds slowly started to break up and the wind started to build. While windy days are not uncommon here, particularly early in the New Year when the prevailing direction is from the north-west, these winds were unusual as they continued from late afternoon through the evening and seemed to build in intensity. Even as we were heading off to bed after 10:00 pm the winds were howling and swirling such that we closed all our doors and windows for the night. Sure enough, the next morning dawned with a clear blue sky and was calm, but for a few gusts to remind us of the “blow” from the night before, which has left a layer of sand outside and a thicker than usual film of dust over every surface, inside.

But, thanks to the holiday weekend, Saturday too is quiet, without the regular half day of work that is typical here. So in a 24 hour period we have seen a rare calm cloudy day turn into a violent wind storm in the late afternoon and through the night, and then with the dawn another perfect blue sky sunny day breaks.

Spring has come to Loreto Bay in other ways as well. The main road through the Village, which has been partially torn up most of the winter, suddenly this week sported fresh chalk lines on one lane defining new angle parking stalls opposite a line of parallel parking. At the same time, on the other side of the median, traffic is flowing much more smoothly without the curb lane full of cars parked bumper to bumper.

Something else has sprouted in the side streets and courtyards of Loreto Bay this spring – chihuahua-sized fire hydrants! This raises a number of issues, perhaps first of all; why is such a basic safety feature only being installed now, 3 ½ years after the first homes were occupied? Then again, what is the fire hazzard in a solid concrete building? In any event, these cute little hydrants represent our last line of defence against whatever threat fire may hold.

The third sign of spring is the beginning of flagstone paving on the east side of the Paseo starting at the Inn. This beautifil meandering sidewalk was completed on the other side of the Paseo earlier this winter and now work is beginning on the other half of the street.

Probably the biggest addition to our community this spring is the opening of the first Homeowners swimming pool. The centrepiece of a large open courtyard area directly across from the entrance to the Inn, this pool has been under construction since the middle of last year. The finishing of the flagstone pool deck, the landscaping surrounding the pool, the shade palalpas and all the mechanical and plumbing works have been the focus of the worker's activities since the New Year. A few weeks ago there was a steady stream (no pun intended) of water trucks delivering tens of thousands of gallons of water to which dozens of 50 lb. sacks of salt were added, because this is a SALT WATER pool, a unique feature that is proving to be very popular with the early dippers.

In addition to adding a crowning feature to the largest finished courtyard in the Founders neighborhood, this pool is a much appreciated amenity for our community and an important milestone in the much anticipated completion of all of the common areas. It also sets a high standard for the future development of the other areas, including the smaller cluster courtyards which continue to be completed and add beauty and serenity to the homes that surround them.

As homeowners, we all bought into a dream and vision for this development which has been a long time coming, and, in substantial ways, we are still waiting for the fullfillment. But the addition of this community pool is a major step forward, and establishes an expectation on the part of we homeowners, and we trust, the new ownership of this project whose opportunity, challenge and responsibility it will be to take the dream forward and realize the fantastic potential that exists in this beautiful place "where the mountains come to swim". And that, to, is part of Living Loreto!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Oh you've got to have . . . Friends!

One of the strongest plusses about Living Loreto is the wonderful people who are our friends and neighbours down here. In spite of the fact that this is only the second full winter we have spent here, I know more people here than back in Calgary, where I have lived and worked for decades.

I think that there are several reasons for this. First of all, a new development like Loreto Bay appeals to people who have many things in common; like a sense of adventure, environmental stewardship and some degree of risk tolerance. Once we start to spend time here, it is easy to meet other people in the community, because there are relatively few other people around and we find we have much in common with them. As we were helped to adapt to these new surroundings, we reach out to others who are starting their experience to offer help and advice that we have learned, or received from others.

These bonds build relationships quickly, and they become stronger as we find other things in common and begin to share new experiences together; like where we found a new store that sells something hard to find, or the location of a new beach or hike down one of the many nameless dusty side roads. Simple pleasures also build these new friendships.
We were introduced to a card game called “Wizard” by some good friends who visited us here over a year ago. It's a simple game that uses a special deck with 8 extra cards, the object being to win a many “tricks” as you predict. After we enjoyed playing this game with our guests several times while they were visiting us, they kindly left the special deck of cards with us when they went home. We then introduced the game to a number of our friends down here, and over the past year, the game of Wizard has become a hit among a growing circle of Loretanos. In fact we have asked incoming visitors to bring several decks of these cards down with them and passed these cards on to people we have introduced the game to, as our original deck was wearing out from being loaned so often. This is an example of the simple things that we can enjoy with friends in this situation.

In the larger Loreto Bay community there are now about 400 homes that have been completed and turned over to the owners. This is substantially more than when we started our first winter here a year and a half ago. At any given time this winter there are probably 100 or more of those homes occupied, most of them, for a few weeks or up to a month at a time. This is probably two or three times the number of people who were living here last year.

Within this number there are several layers of community that we are involved in. There is our immediate “cluster” of neighbouring homes, most of which were among the first completed, and many of them are occupied at least part of the season. This is where we have some of our closest friends, and many of whom were the first people we met down here, even before our homes were finished. These are also the people who we see almost every day, as we and they come and go about our daily activities.

We also have friends and aquaintances spread out over the rest of the “village” area. Some we got to know back in Calgary, where we met at Loreto Bay events or socially at Loreto-wanna-be get togethers, before we were able to spend as much time here. Now, we are able to be here together; playing golf, exchanging dinners and living the dream that brought us together in the first place. Others are people we have met here, who are spending the same sort of time here as we are.

Since I have been writing this Blog, it has brought me in touch with some others, who may only be able to visit for shorter periods of time, but feel a connection through reading these postings and get in touch when they are here for a visit. The current flurry of communications over the Homeowners Association business has brought us into contact with another group of owners, who we might not have known otherwise.

Since we have been here for these extended stays, we also have a further circle of friends who live in the Nopolo area that borders the Loreto Bay development. Many of these people have been here for a number of years, (some close to two decades) and we consider their experience of buying and/or building on their own, without the “protection” or structure that comes with a developer-driven project, to be a big step beyond what our adventure has been.

We also have friends who live in the town of Loreto. One couple in particular, who we refer to as “the city mice” (we being the “country” version) became aquaintances one evening in June 2004 when we were the only two tables occupied in a restaurant. From the inevitable eavesdropped conversations, we both realized we were talking about the same trials and tribulations of building a home in Mexico. Instant bonding! As we learned that evening, they were building their dream home in town, just a few blocks away from the restaurant at the same time as our place was being finished in Loreto Bay. Now both homes are finished and we visit back and forth sharing and comparing the similarities and differences in our chosen paths toward Living Loreto.

There is another group of people that we are developing new friendships with, as we spend more time living here, and that is the Mexicans who make Loreto or Loreto Bay their year round home. Some of these people provide us with goods or services and we get to know them better the longer we are here. Others we come in contact with through the day to day dealings with living in our home in the community, like the repair man, (who we feel we have almost adopted), that has fixed things in our home that are beyond my skill or ability. Within this group, my wife's growing fluency in Spanish opens the door to this new world of people, who, in time, may become the largest group we know.

What brings all of these relationships to my mind at this time is the change of seasons. The winter is ending and the subtle seasonal shift from winter to spring and then summer is progressing from day to day. With the change of season, begins the northward migration of the “snowbirds”. Every week we are saying good-bye to people who are leaving to return to their summer life. They usually express regrets about leaving, and often, concern about returning to comparitively wintery weather back home. But we also know, from our own past experience, there is also excitement and anticipation on their part, to return to lives and homes and family after spending their time so far away.

For us, this experience of gradually losing our community, bit by bit, and person by person, is a sad reminder that everyone that leaves shrinks the pool we have enjoyed playing in so much all winter. So this is the beginning of the end of the winter season and every week we find ourselves saying good bye to friends and asking when people are leaving is becoming the new common question when we bump into someone. Talk then moves on to expected return dates and we find ourselves beginning to look forward to “next winter” before we have even reached the end of this one. Getting used to comings and goings is, sadly, another part of Living Loreto.