Sunday, May 3, 2009

If Pigs could fly - - - God forbid!

This week I think I would be remiss if I did not dedicate my Blog to the 250 pound Pig lounging comfortably under that palapa over there, sipping on a margarita!
Yes, it was only last weekend that we started to hear something about swine flu in Mexico. For us, one of the first times we heard about it was in a phone call back to Canada, where my family had been hearing a lot about it in the media for the previous day or so. Later we saw some of the coverage on our TV news channels; Fox and CNN, and began to appreciate the level of concern that was being generated north of the border.

Before I go any further with this, let me say that I am sorry for anyone who has been directly affected by this illness and I in no way want to trivialize what is no doubt a serious and potentially life-threatening situation in some places. However, I do want to contrast the near-hysteria that is being generated by the media and the 24 hour news cycle with the relatively benign effects that we are seeing here “on the ground” in Baja, our quiet little part of Mexico.
As I write this on Saturday May 2nd there has not been one case of H1 N1, or swine flu, reported anywhere in Baja Sur. However, the schools in town have been closed this past week, and will be until the 6th, by order of the Federal Government. Other than that, I am not aware of any unusual circumstances that have impacted our day to day life other than the following instances. A friend had her Spanish class cancelled because it was held in a school building that was closed. Our visitor, who left here on Monday morning, picked up some surgical masks last weekend while he was in town, because he was travelling on to Mexico City. We heard later in the week that the farmacias in town had sold out of masks. Starting on Thursday of the past week, there has been a big gathering of “yachties” in Puerto Escondito, 15 km south of here, called Loretofest. This annual event, which draws a couple of hundred, mainly live-aboard boaters from all around the Sea of Cortez' was briefly threatened with cancellation by Singlar, the Government agency in charge of their marine tourism infrastructure, whose facilities were being used for the event. However, calmer heads prevailed and the event is underway as I write this, with no evidence of face masks, or any particular concern, other than a jokingly half hearted avoidance of kissing or anything else that might easily spread infection.

Contrast that with the minute by minute updates of infection rates and state by state comparisons and debates about travel restrictions and border closings and I hope you can understand my sense of disconnection between the reality I see around me and the news images that appear to be the current obsession of the world's media. Now I don't want to appear to be minimizing the seriousness of the situation in Mexico City, (one of the largest urban population centers in the world) or other affected areas but fundamental in understanding our perspective is the fact that, where we are, in the southern Baja penninsula, is one of the more isolated places you can find in Mexico. We have an air link to the US through Los Angeles four times a week and a road that connects us to Cabo and La Paz in the south and extends to Tijuana over 1,000 km to the north. Travel between the Baja and the mainland of Mexico is limited, with air connections to Cabo and La Paz, but none from the mainland to Loreto. There is also a ferry service from the mainland to La Paz and further north to Santa Rosalia. So the potential for transmission here is remote, witness our current clean bill of health I mentioned earlier. Ironically, given the air access from LA, the greatest threat we may be facing in this part of the Baja is probably from the passengers arriving here from infected areas up north!

On the subject of threat origin, I was sent an apparently credible link this week to the story about the huge pig factory farm on the outskirts of the small Mexican town that is being identified as “ground zero” for the beginning of this strain of flu. Apparently, the farm is owned by Smithfield Farms, a American agri-industry conglomerate that set up the pig farm there after being charged with a huge fine for massive polution from their pig farming activities in the US. Subsequently they opened up the Mexican operation, without being subject to the same degree of environmental controls here as in the US. Now we are experiencing the consequences of their corporate disregard for the environment and the impact that that is having worldwide and the inflamed reaction it is having particularly in their country of origin, America. (I was going to add something here on a variation on the theme of “chickens coming home to roost”, but with the change of species the visuals, just didn't work!)

So on this quiet May Day weekend here in Loreto, we are enjoying a peaceful, quiet, holiday weekend (May 1st here, is the equivalent of Labour Day north of the border) in spite of the global attention that appears to be focussed on this country. While we are concerned about the long range consequences of the potential of a pandemic developing out of this situation, we feel safe and secure in our isolated and remote location and, save for the penetration of the international media, we might be blissfully ignorant of these goings on. There is a saying we have in Canada: “When the US gets a cold, Canada gets pneumonia”. Perhaps the new adage will be: “When Mexico gets the flu, the US gets hysterical”.

Which I guess proves the old adage, “Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper!” reality can be much different than the appearance portrayed in the media. Being the focus of international attention and not feeling any effect from the subject of all that interest is a new and unexpected variation of “Living Loreto”.

P.S. Wash your hands thoroughly, cover your mouth if you have to cough, and perhaps consider coming to Loreto to avoid the next global threat to your health!