Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sandals, Bath Tubs & Bikes!

Currently I am back in Canada visiting family and friends over the Holidays and so I asked a Homeowner and friend Steven, to offer some thoughts from a recent visit he made to Loreto Bay which follows. It is my theory that everyone has a “Blog” in them and Steven’s offering proves my premise to be true again. Living Loreto will be on hiatus until the New Year when I will be back home in Loreto and look forward to resuming my regular postings.

At this time I wish all of you a wonderful Holiday Season and all of the best for a safe, happy and prosperous New Year! I hope you will return and visit Living Loreto in the New Year, and my thanks for your past visits!


You cannot visit, or for that matter live in Loreto, without getting dusty feet. This is a problem that all of us are familiar with. We can’t wear closed toed shoes-they are way too hot and mark you as a geek, so we pad around in flip-flops and sandals. Even Nellie Hutchison, the best dressed gal in Loreto Bay, wears sandals, although they are styling to the max with stiletto heels.

I think I have finally figured out why Loreto Bay Company installed all those fancy bathtubs in our homes. You have to admit - as a sales feature, they make a great impression. They are beautiful, whether they were decked in Mexican tile or Travertine marble. But who really uses the damn things? I suppose some folks do take baths here, but I am guessing that the vast majority of us take showers and those bathtubs just sit there looking good but do not get used all that much. We even begin to feel resentful of them-they take up valuable space that we could use for storage.

Maybe the geniuses at Loreto Bay Company realized the problem of dusty feet could turn into an epidemic and gave us each a perfect way to solve the problem. Maybe to save ourselves from the pain and embarrassment of going to bed with dirty feet and soiling our nice sheets we were provided with the perfect solution. We can use our bathtubs to clean our feet each night. We can start a new bedtime regime-brush your teeth and wash your feet in the privacy and comfort of your own bathroom.

I stumbled upon this perfect use of the bathtub the night of attending the Baja 1000. Drew McNabb picked us up at 6 a.m. and we travelled to the Baja Pits behind the Pemex station just in time to see some of the off-road vehicles and moto-cross bikes pull in and re-fuel, or fix whatever was ailing them. Amidst the pandemonium of the event, you could not help but be covered in dust. From head to toe. In each ear and nostril. A complete cover job.

But we were back in Loreto Bay by 10 a.m. and went about our day in the usual way. When we finally turned in that evening, my feet were just filthy, as they are just about every day I am in Loreto. Well, sometimes you just don’t feel like taking a shower at 9 p.m. but you always feel like going to bed. What do you do with those damn feet?

The bathtub! It is a perfect perch to rest your weary bones on while you step those ugly feet inside and turn on the water. You can just sit there and gaze at the swirls of grime going down the drain as your feet emerge clean and fresh and ready for bed. You can add to the satisfaction by waiting for the water to get nice and warm and then going for the full spa-like treatment- you can massage those puppies with a wash cloth and really go first class. You can even finish the process with some skin lotion (I never did this - I just thought of it right now). Combine that with a brisk brush of the teeth and you are ready for anything - even sleep! So don’t let that bathtub just sit there like a beached whale. Use it and give it the satisfaction of knowing it is fulfilling a purpose-to make each of us cleaner and happier as we get ready for sweet slumber.


We felt it as soon as we got to Loreto Bay. There is a buzz of energy about the place. The Inn looks and feels great. The brightly colored paint job, the new covered dining area, with white table clothes and white chairs adjacent to the exercise room by the pool, the restored palapas on the beach, the new deck furniture at the pool, the increasingly professional attitude of the staff at the Inn, all combine to make going to the Inn a pleasure again. It just feels good to be there. The food is also very good. We enjoyed one buffet dinner and one breakfast. Both meals were outstanding. You can also open an account at the Registration Desk-just provide your casa number and a credit card and you can use the account while you are there and pay one credit card charge at the end of your stay. It was easy for us and will be for you too. WOW! What a difference from last year.

Everyone is abuzz about the Paseo being paved, which is a good thing. But it also shows that our new neighbor, HOMEX, is serious about making Loreto Bay a success. They want this place to succeed, and they are putting their money on the table to make it happen. I am of the opinion that the new phase of homes being built and sold to a primarily Mexican audience is a great thing for this community. A mixed race community of Mexicans, Americans and Canadians can only be better, on many levels, than one dominated by just Anglos. There are many phases of development to be completed, including the beautification of Agua Viva, but for me, this year represents a huge step forward.

The expanded and relocated Baja Onsite Community Store is such an asset! Evan and Julie work hard to make things available to us that we need or want, without having to drive into town. For those of us who desire to stay out of cars, this is HUGE! We can all ride our bicycles to get what we need that day.

Speaking of bicycles, we have used them on our last two trips as our primary means of transport, and we heartily recommend them to our neighbors. You can go from one end of the Village to the other in no time at all, and then throw in a trip to Agua Viva, which takes all of five minutes. The exercise feels great, the breezes cool you down, and the ride through all that gorgeous landscaping is just plain fun. We like the bikes with big fat tires - you can bring one down on Alaska Airlines for fifty bucks, so perhaps it is time to get on board?

What an exciting New Year for all of us in Loreto Bay. I LOVE THIS PLACE!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Auction Where Everybody Wins!

Next to Homeowners, the most numerous group of residents in Loreto Bay have four feet – mainly dogs, but also a few cats. While many of these “best friends” come from northern homes, a surprising number have been adopted here in Mexico – a situation I refer to as the pet equivalent to winning the Lottery!

This analogy is particularly true if you are familiar with the sad situation of the many stray dogs that can often be seen in and around most places where people are found in Mexico. It has been an unfortunate fact of life in Mexico for many years, that packs of stray dogs, usually malnourished and often injured, make noisy pests of themselves. This was certainly the case in Loreto when I first started coming here, and in the Loreto Bay development, during the more than five years of intensive construction, there were many such animals “living” off the leftovers of hundreds of workers that were building the homes.

Given the number of pet-owners among the Homeowners here it is not surprising that there is an active and successful organization concerned with the welfare of the local animal population, that organization is called Animalandia. Their mandate is primarily to spay and neuter both feral animals and those owned by local Mexicans who cannot afford to pay for these operations. However, they explicitly do not want the services they provide to interfere with the livelihood of the local vets who are charging the people who can afford the cost of these procedures.

Animalandia works closely with Vets and Vet technicians from the US and Canada who donate their time and expertise and travel to Loreto several times a year to hold free clinics where they perform dozens of operations over a few days of intensive work. For this these volunteers receive free accommodations, often in the homes of Animalandia members, and their meals while they are in town. The clinics take place in a small facility that has been recently built by Animalandia, where up to four operations can take place at the same time. In addition to this facility, the organization also provides all the medical supplies required for the operations, some of which they receive as donations.

Another important role this group plays is to act as an adoption agency, finding homes for the rescued animals after they have been operated on. While many of these adoptions take place in and around the town of Loreto, including Loreto Bay (see prvious posts: “It’s a Dog’s Life” Dec. 2009, “A Dog’s Life Loreto Style” Jan. 2010), with the relatively small population base here a surprising number of adoptions take place north of the border in the US and Canada.

One of Animalandia’s main fundraising activities is a silent auction that receives contributions from many local businesses including Hotels and Restaurants and professional services including esthetics and massage as well as art and crafts, household goods, sport equipment and activities. In such a small community this sort of event takes on even more significance because many of those who contributed these goods and services also attend the event and further support the charity by bidding on auction items.

Last weekend, this auction was held at the Inn at Loreto Bay thanks to the support of the Manager Peter Maxwell.  In addition to providing the use of their open air bar and reception area as the venue, the Inn also contributed a generous spread of appetizers and some auction items of meals and accommodations.  I was pleased to have been asked to provide some music and act as a quasi-MC, using my portable PA system (which is turning out to be a great way to get invited to good parties!).

When I arrived to set up my equipment, most of the preparations had been completed by Animalandia volunteers, auction items or their descriptive sheets, were displayed around the perimeter of the mezzanine and bidder’s sheets with pens were placed with each item. A long table was set up at one end to hold the finger food and the cash bar took up another side. The rest of the area was filled with groups of tables and chairs. At the entrance to this space, which is upstairs from the lobby and overlooks the Hotel courtyard through to the beach on one side and the Sierra Gigante mountains on the other, was a display of many numbered door prizes and a desk where a small admission was charged and additional donations could be made.

I set up my equipment at one end of the bar and began to play music while some last minute auction items arrived and the final preparations were made. Shortly after the 3:00 pm start time people started to arrive and soon the space was filling up, with mingling over drinks and nibbling on the tasty food. Bidding strategy began to become evident – the early in, the wait and see, the bid and ignore, and the stand guard – all were represented! One of my jobs, as well as the music, was to announce winning ticket numbers for door prizes, and, due to the generosity of the many donors, a good percentage of those in attendance went home with one of these many prizes.

But the bidding and door prizes, the drinks and snacks, were not the only reason there were almost a hundred people in attendance. Although many people who live here in Loreto Bay have friends who live in the town 15 km away – and vice versa - so far, there have been a limited number of events where the two groups mingle, and only a few of those activities where the “townies” come out to Loreto Bay. So the welfare of the animals, both here and in town, was one of those opportunities and everyone present seemed to enjoy it!

There were even some four legged guests in the crowd – including one of the newest “rescue” dogs who had recently been found in very poor condition and, after the Vet provided some first aid, she was now being taken care of by a “foster” owner until a permanent home is found. Although the prominent rib cage told something of the hard life this dog had lived up until recently, at this auction/party she was happily excited to be surrounded by all these people and seemed to be responding very well to her improved living conditions – like any Lottery winner!

After several hours of bidding and visiting the auction sheets were pulled, starting with many from the supportive Hotels and Restaurants and working the way through the dozens of other desirable items and services which were on offer. I read out the “winning” bids and volunteers were kept busy receiving payments in exchange for the actual items or their certificates. Gradually the sunny afternoon had turned to early evening and the generous people who had attended made their way home, many with a new treasure, or looking forward to a new experience that they had bought.

In the seven years that Animalandia has existed here in Loreto they have made it possible for over 4,500 spay and neuter operations to be performed – and so eliminated many thousands more unwelcome and uncared for animals that would have plagued our community. In addition to this they have also arranged many adoptions of rescued animals, bringing untold love and joy to these animals and their adoptive owners, both here and in many other places in the US and Canada. If you are interested in learning more about this organization, or making a donation to support their good works (they are currently offering a great wall calendar with local children’s artwork and stories about adopted dogs) please visit their website:

While this is the second Blog in a row with a subject involving charity, I am somewhat uncomfortable drawing any parallels or comparisons between the good works of last week’s subject Caritas helping the people of San Juanico and this week’s story about Animalandia. In my mind there is no way to equate between the needs of people with those of animals.

But as we enter the Holiday Season and our thoughts turn to the act of giving to celebrate this time of year, far be it from me to judge the relative motive or effect of these two examples of generosity and care. Suffice to say, for those of us who are lucky enough to call this beautiful place home (or the many more that will do so in the future) the willingness to share our good fortune with others is one of the best parts of Living Loreto!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Trip To San Juanico

This past week I had a remarkable experience which will be a challenge to do justice to on these pages. As regular readers know, many of the subjects for my Blog this Fall have centered around parties and other social events that have happened here, mainly among the ex-pat community. One of those events was the Paella Cook-Off (“Paella Cook-Off III”, Nov. 7th) which raised almost 50,000 pesos ($4,000 US) for charity.

These funds were going to be divided three ways. One third was going to the Internado, a residential school for children who are bussed into town for their weekly classes and returned to their homes in outlying areas for the weekends. Another third was to be a contribution to the local Optimists Club children’s fund. And the final third was designated for Caritas, a volunteer charitable organization that helps some of the poorest people living in surrounding remote areas.

Recently I was invited to accompany Shelia and Manfred (who were the organizers of the Paella event) when they joined volunteers from Caritas to go out to distribute some of the aid that was made possible by the contribution of funds their event had raised. Of course, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about some of the people and places that surround Loreto Bay, where I make my home. I also saw the potential for a Blog subject that would somewhat balance the “party, party, party” theme that has somewhat dominated these pages recently.

Part of the experience of life in a foreign country, is being surrounded by extremes in standards of living. Although within Loreto Bay we live in a homogeneous community of more or less comparable homes, mainly occupied by people from the US and Canada, fifteen kilometres away in the town of Loreto there is a much broader range of living conditions. These vary between large oceanfront residences, through middle and working class homes in the town proper, and to areas of extreme poverty on the outskirts of town.

But beyond even this range of extremes, there are isolated rancheros raising cattle near oasis in the miles of rugged desert that makes up most of this peninsula, and remote fishing settlements that are located where there is an accessible beach with some protection and good fishing nearby. These are the sort of places where the children who are the students of the Internado school system come from, and they are also the charitable focus of the Caritas organization.
                                                                                                                                                              Our destination on this day was a small bay north of Loreto called San Juanico, where a couple of dozen people in eight family groups live and subsist by fishing in the surrounding waters of the Sea of Cortez. Shelia, Manfred and I met with three local volunteers from Caritas in Loreto and we followed them about 50 km north of town where we left the highway and took the most primitive of roads east towards the ocean.

Any travel off the main highway here usually involves going through sections of arroyo, or watersheds where the occasional downpours drain surrounding hills into the ocean. After crossing through scrub brush near the highway, we entered an area of large cactus and sections of the dry gravel arroyo before coming to rocky outcrops that were at least four stories high, where the channel narrowed and we could see signs of erosion on the volcanic walls. Considering we were driving on bone dry sand and gravel, this erosion takes on more significance. When there can be years between flood events, and then they can last for only days, or possibly a week or so, the mind boggles considering the millennia of time it has taken to erode this hard rock from these infrequent deluges!

In the same area, we passed through a page wire gate that controlled free-range cattle in the area. This gate was over 6 ft. high and caught in the joints at the top of the wire mesh were wisps of dried grasses which must have lodged there the last time a torrential flood had exceeded 6 ft. depth in this restricted channel. We also saw ``Palo Blanco`` trees growing out of solid rock walls where they somehow found a source of water sufficient to support life.

After driving 15 km from the highway, we were approaching the ocean and our destination. At the end of a sandy stretch of road through the shoreline brush and mangrove we arrived at the small cluster of homes that was the fishing settlement at San Jaunico. The quality of these buildings varied considerably – there were a few newer looking plastered concrete block buildings, but others were made from plywood or corrugated fibre panels – even salvaged scrap timber and plastic canvas sheets.

When we arrived the Caritas volunteers were greeted as old friends by a couple of women in their 20’s carrying young children, Manfred, Shelia and I were included in introductions and handshakes as others joined us, including the apparent matriarch who was probably in her 60’s and the “head man” who may have been in his 50’s. Initially, I was wondering why there were no older children around, just adults and toddlers, and then I realized that all of the school aged children were probably enrolled in the Internado, getting their education in Loreto, where they lived between weekend trips back home.

After the introductions, and some discussion about what supplies we had brought them, the women gathered at the back of my car where the bags of donated clothes, shoes and bedding were opened and distributed. This process took on the look and feel of a friendly “rummage sale”, with each item being inspected and chosen by one or another, based on size and appropriateness. If an item was not suitable for any of them, they always seemed to know of someone else in a nearby ranchero or another fishing camp up the shoreline that could use it.

While the women were thus occupied, I wandered around the cluster of buildings and learned a little more about how these people were living. Several of the men were assembling fish nets, tying nylon mesh between two ropes, one of which had plastic floats spaced out along it’s length, the other with small lead weights. Based on the pile of finished nets, and the materials ready for assembly, they were going to have hundreds of feet of it ready for fishing when they were finished the job. A flock of about a dozen goats appeared from over the rocky cliffs at the south end of the beach and they were quickly marshalled into order by several of the numerous dogs that were obviously “at home” in the community.

(I had asked that the Caritas people explain to the residents that I was taking these pictures to publish in my Blog (not sure how familiar these people would be with THAT concept!) and I wasn’t just being “nosey”, so I felt reasonably comfortable taking these shots.)

There was a small structure, open on one side, facing the Ocean, inside of which there was an altar, a cross and Icon, some floral arrangements, and a decorated Christmas tree – their Church, for which, I later found out, they wanted to build some benches so they could sit for the services they performed for themselves. There was some tinsel bunting wrapped around a tree outside this Church as well – that added an incongruously festive touch to these primitive surroundings.

At the base of the rocky cliff that wrapped around two sides of the beach there was a small garden patch with 4 foot corn plants around the perimeter, and I saw tomato plants, and a row of cilantro as well as small shrub sized orange and grapefruit trees that are years from bearing any fruit. Two 40 gallon sized plastic drums stood beside the garden, holding the fresh water for irrigating the plants, a reminder that all of their water had to be hauled in. Apparently they had set up a simple water system sometime in the past, pumping water from a well and distributing it to the homes through plastic piping, but now the pump no longer worked and they didn’t have the money to replace it. These few plants were their only source of fresh fruit or vegetables (other than what they could buy or barter for) and they were sturdily protected from the healthy appetites of the goats, which, by the way, provided these people’s source of fresh milk, as well as fertilizer!

Further along the rock cliff, towards the beach the head man, Jorge, pointed out a small cave opening that went about 12 or 15 feet into the rock and was 6 or 8 feet wide and 4 or 5 feet high. I saw some tools and equipment stored inside and took a few pictures. But then, with some translation help, Jorge explained than he had LIVED in this cave for the first year he stayed here, before he was joined by family and the community began to grow here five years ago. After learning this, I looked back at the cave with new respect for the will and determination of these people – and a different appreciation for the progress that this modest collection of simple shelters represented.

Making my way down to the beach I saw the half dozen pangas pulled well up onto the shore, far from the crashing surf that was still running high after the recent strong winds. These fishing boats, despite their tired appearances and elderly outboard motors, were the most important assets of the community – providing the only means of support for the families who lived here. The fish they caught, in excess of their own needs for food, were taken into Loreto to sell and the small amount of money that provided purchased everything else that sustained them. Including their drinking water and, the vital ice they needed to store the fish between trips to town. The ice explained the numerous rusty old refrigerators that were scattered around most of the homes, lying on their backs, filled with this precious commodity that had to be constantly replenished.

In the midst of these simple homes and primitive surroundings there was one incongruous, but very important hi-tech element – solar power panels. Adjacent to most of these little buildings there was a steel mast topped by small solar panel which would charge a battery and provide enough power for low wattage lighting inside at night. I also saw another example of the inventiveness of these resourceful people, one of the boats also had a small mast mounted with a small fluorescent light fixture (covered by a clear plastic bag to protect it from water) which was connected to the outboard battery to provide a little light for night fishing. But the unique part of this equipment was the switch for the light which had been fashioned from a medical syringe, push the plunger in and the light went on, pull it out and it turned off – a foolproof, and waterproof solution that was an inspiring example of recycling!

As I made my way back to the homes, the clothing had all been distributed, along with the food hampers that Caritas had brought that contained a standard supply of basics like rice, beans, oil, milk, cereal, dried soup, some fresh vegetables, canned tuna and soap. They also had brought 20 litre bottles of water, all of which were carried off into the different homes. With our trucks now empty we were about to get things together to leave, when we were asked if we would like some fish. Of course, an offer of some filets of fresh fish is always welcome, and as this was the only thing they had that they could give us in appreciation, we of course said yes, enthusiastically! But we were wrong – they weren’t offering us some fish to take away with us, no, these women were going to prepare a meal of fish for us!

While several of them set to work in the “kitchen” of one of the larger homes, we were asked if we would like to meet Sabas Saul, the 84 year old patriarch of the community, who was quite ill in bed, in a shed-like addition on the newest and largest house. We were taken to him and introduced as he lay on a tired looking bed frame covered with bedding and quilts, dressed in several layers of clothes against the chill in the air. His wife, the matriarch we had met soon after arriving, explained his ailments to the Caritas people, and asked for simple things like antacid for his chronic stomach problem, ibuprofen to relieve muscle and joint pains. These simple over-the-counter medications obviously could only do the very minimum to relieve some of the pain and discomfort that this old man was living with, and yet they were beyond the reach of these proud people who were asking for help. The good people from Caritas assured the wife that they would see to these needs on their next visit and, with that, we left him with our good wishes and a sobering grasp of the reality of how hard this life can be at the end.

We returned to sit under the patio roof outside the other house, where there were now delicious smells of fried fish in the air. The six of us sat around the plastic table that held a towel wrapped stack of fresh warm tortillas, a bowl of fresh chopped tomato, onion and cilantro salsa, and then a large dish of golden fried fish fillets arrived out of the darkened door of this modest home. And so began one of my most memorable – and delicious – meals here in Mexico.

This simple food was delectable and perfectly prepared, but the secret ingredient that made it a meal I will not forget was the genuine hospitality of our hosts, the fine, proud and independent people who had chosen this harsh, but beautiful place to make their claim for a simple life so far away (in many ways) from everything that made up the world that I take for granted every day.

Having the privilege to participate in the simple act of giving a little to people for whom it means so much – and then to receive a delicious meal, from the people we have just provided a small supply of the basic staples of life. This day, and what I learned about decency, self-respect, and hospitality will be one of my most valuable lessons in “Living Loreto”!

(From what I have seen, I am very impressed with the good work of the Caritas organization here in Loreto. If my story has inspired you to consider making a contribution to aid in their efforts to help some of the most deserving, I would be very happy to provide you with wiring instructions to make a deposit to their bank account. Just email me (my address is at the top of this page) and I will forward the information.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving Thanks – for a road – maybe!

As someone who is lucky enough to call a beautiful place like Loreto Bay “home” it is not difficult to find things to be thankful for – the weather, the Sea of Cortez, the people and the community that surrounds me for starters. However, on this, the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, we who are living here have added another thing to that list . . . a road!

For those of you not familiar with the history, a little background is required. The road that bisects this development was built many years before there was anything else here, and with the traffic and construction work over the last five years of the development of the Founders Neighbourhood, it has deteriorated significantly. Almost two years ago work started on resurfacing the road and most of one side of the divided street was torn up in preparation. Unfortunately, this timing was bad and before constructive work could begin, the previous Developer, who was to be contributing funds to the project, ceased all operations and we were left with a worse situation than before. Half the road was compressed sand and the remainder was old asphalt, potholed and broken in many places.

Therefore, during the most of the time people have been living in the Loreto Bay development we have had to deal with a “substandard” (to say the least) road through our community. This situation has been further complicated by the fact that the road itself is not owned by our Condominium Regime, it is controlled by Fonatur (the Mexican Government’s department that is responsible for administering tourism, among other things) and, as such, beyond our control, even if we did have the funds to fix it, which we didn’t.

Earlier this year, when Homex (the new Developer) purchased significant assets that belonged to the previous Developer including the Inn, Golf Course and a parcel of land for future development, one of the issues that was the subject of great speculation among many Homeowners was “Would Homex fix the road?”. My opinion from the beginning was, simply put, Homex would likely do whatever was in Homex’s best interest. And, since they owned a Hotel at the south end of the development and were going to be building hundreds of homes at the north end – connected by this road – it always seemed clear to me that, yes, Homex would fix the road . . . when they wanted to.

Well, that day appears to have come – maybe. Last week Homex informed our Condominium management that parking needed to be restricted on certain stretches of the road because work was going to begin last Thursday. And it did! Did it ever! Men and equipment appeared and work began. Graders, back hoes, rollers and dump trucks with dozens of workers started the big job last week and work has continued ever since, late into the night and on the weekend.

So far the progress has been impressive, with work starting on the south entrance, forming concrete curbing for the relatively new paving on that stretch, and major work has been done on the “T” intersection where that road joins the main Paseo road near the Inn. From there to the Inn, the old asphalt has been torn up and a new roadbed has been graded. From about halfway down the Paseo, towards the north, the west side of the road, which had been left as bare sand after the initial work stopped several years ago, new roadbed has been graded and compacted and forms for curbing are being assembled.

The uniquely Loretano aspect of this project is that apparently no one except Homex actually knows what the extent of work and the timetable is going to be – and, so far, they aren’t talking! So the speculation about “if and when” the road will be fixed has been replaced with new speculation about “how much and where”. But the undeniable fact is that THE ROAD IS BEING FIXED! And the work is being done in a timely, efficient and obviously professional manner - which is a refreshing change from what many of us have experienced here in the past.

Although I do not normally participate in speculation – particularly on these pages – it is my opinion that the work will be completed and the Paseo will be fully (and beautifully) paved possibly in time for the New Year. While having a nice new road will be one of the most important improvements to the infrastructure in the recent history of Loreto Bay, I think the significance of this project is even greater than the obvious benefits of the road itself.

The new road, when it is completed, will become a positive and tangible symbol and statement about the current health and future potential of this development. From my professional perspective, (with my Real Estate agents hat firmly in place) I know how important that symbol will be in making a positive first impression on visitors and potential buyers of this project. In the past, without exception, I have come to expect the inevitable questions from those visitors and prospects about the condition of the road and what was going to be done about it.

Going forward, no such explanation will be required, and the evaluation that these people will make, in the absence of such a glaring deficiency, will undoubtedly be that much more positive as a result. While it is easy to foresee the positive impact that removing such an obvious negative will have on those seeing Loreto Bay for the first time, it is perhaps more complicated understanding the effects it will have on those of us who are long term residents as well as the Homeowners who stay here for shorter term visits.

Community pride will no doubt be positively impacted – that goes without saying – and I expect that there will also be a significant confirmation of their faith and confidence in their decisions and choices that have brought them to this place, where they have made an emotional as well as financial investment. But I also know that the majority of the people who make up this community are a special group. What brought them here in the first place was obviously not the level of the infrastructure that was here. They needed to have the vision to see beyond some of those obvious shortcomings – to see the underlying natural assets, like the sunrise breaking over Punta Nopolo and setting behind the purple Sierra Gigante range.

This place has brought out the best in many of the people who have come to consider it home, in spite of – not because of - what is, or is not here. Their love of being here has not been dependent on the normal qualities that are taken for granted where we have come from. They see (and appreciate) more important (and rarer) values that endure what frustrations they have learned are part of the bargain you have to make to live here. So when something as positive and important as the paving of the road that is the main artery of their community occurs, it remains to be seen what the impact will be on the people who live here – but I know it will be good!

When the simple act of paving a road, that would be taken for granted almost anywhere else, becomes a symbol of the positive future for the individuals who live here and the community in general that is one of the things that makes Living Loreto so special.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Baja Mille!

One of the biggest events in the Baja every year is the 1,000 mile Off Road race –
the famous Baja 1000. This year, the 43rd annual, started on the Pacific Ocean-side of Baja California in Ensenada about 65 miles south of the border and headed southeast to San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez before heading south through Coco’s Corner, Bahia de Los Angeles, San Ignacio, back to the Pacific at San Juanico, then back to the Sea of Cortez at Loreto, back to the Pacific at Ciudad Insurgentes heading down along the Pacific through Santa Rita before turning back east and down into La Paz for the finish.

For the past week there have been an increasing number of racing teams staying at the INN, across from my Office, these were the “pre-runners” whose job it is to test drive stretches of the course to develop strategies (which they record on GPS) for the actual race drivers who will use this intelligence during the race. The highway has been busy with support trucks carrying stacks of tires and 20 gallon jugs of fuel along with enough tools to satisfy the fantasy of any backyard mechanic.

There are dozens of classes of vehicles from small displacement dirt bikes and quads
through many variations of dune buggies and small trucks all the way up to quarter of a million dollar “Trophy Trucks” with 850 horsepower engines. Factory teams have dozens of support and pit crew staged at various places on the course, some even have their own helicopter air support, while at the other end of the food chain there are modest private teams, perhaps a family or small group of individuals racing their home built VW bug - and everything in between.

The motorcycles started the race at 6:30 am on Thursday at 30 second intervals and the power and speed of the vehicles increase through the different classes until the Cars and Trucks started their intervals at 11:30 am. This year there were over 300 entries from 37 U.S. States, and 19 countries, competing in 33 Pro and 7 Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs. To qualify the race must be completed within 45 hours, but the top finishers do so in about half that time while up to half of the entrants do not finish. Most of the teams had multiple drivers taking different stages of the race, but there is a special group of drivers who solo the entire 1,000 miles – truly a test of endurance by any standard of sports.

My first experience of this race was a couple of years ago when I joined a couple of other Homeowners and we went out to a spot on the north side of town where the course came near the highway. That year we waited from about 10:30 pm until 1:30 in the morning before the first dirt bike blasted out of the pitch black night and through the dusty pit area before plunging back into the Baja night. Then we waited around again for almost another hour for the next bike to appear before I finally gave up and went home to bed.

This year I had another plan. Rather than spend the night waiting in the dark for
the front runners to appear, I decided to get up just before dawn and, along with several others from Loreto Bay, we headed to this year’s pit area, half a mile west of the Highway Pemex at the entrance to town. The sun still hadn’t risen when we arrived but we didn’t have to wait long before we heard the high performance engine and then saw the multiple blinding headlights of the first vehicle come charging out of the dusty dark and do a four wheel drift into the pit area next to where we were standing.

The most amazing thing about this scene was the fact that we were standing at the side of a dirt road that was part of the course separated from the “pits” by a stretch of plastic tape and vehicles were passing on both sides of us, some in the race, others were private vehicles, support trucks even fully loaded dump trucks carrying gravel. In the midst of which, spectators including a number of small kids, were standing around watching or moving from place to place with little or no apparent concern with the fact that they were essentially in the middle of a race track! When I considered how a similar situation would have been handled anywhere in North America we would have been kept at a “safe” distance, probably behind an appropriately sturdy security fence, to try to observe the action. But this is the Baja Mexico, where the “Nanny State” concept has not yet taken root and people are responsible for the consequences of their own behaviour – a refreshing, if somewhat sobering reality.

So, as the sun rose and the chill in the air quickly disappeared, we were kept
entertained by the arrivals and departures of various sizes and shapes of vehicles. Some stopped for fuel, some changed drivers, others had mechanical problems that were quickly resolved right there in the dirt by their resourceful pit crews and yet others motored right through the stop and carried on back into the desert – engines growling and tires throwing dust and dirt behind them as they went. During lapses in the action the crowd shifted from one vantage point to another, talked about the vehicles and waited for the sound of the next visitor approaching.

At one point during the morning, a young girl wandered up the road carrying a plastic box lined with towels and when I saw her stop and talk to several Mexicans and then reach into the box and start pulling out large flat donut shaped pastries sprinkled with sugar I stepped up and bought my breakfast – for 5 pesos (or about 3 cents!) and still warm from the fryer!

After several hours of being spectators we regrouped and made our way back to the car to return to Loreto Bay – impressed with our morning’s experience, Seeing hundred’s of thousands of dollars of state of the art vehicles, competing more with the terrain than each other, surrounded by kids and adults, Mexicans and Gringos, without the structure and limits that would be expected anywhere but here. The combination of freedom coupled with responsibility for oneself that could only happen in a place like this – where one of the premiere off-road races in the world can be held with little or no restrictions, free for all to attend – indeed this event was another amazing chapter in the experience that is “Living Loreto”!

P.S. If you want to see more of this truly “amazing race” there will be a broadcast on NBC TV December 19th at 3:00 pm EST, mark your calendar – you won’t be disappointed!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nellie's Celebration!

As I sit down to write this week’s epistle I am a little concerned that you, my gentle reader, may get the wrong impression about life here in Loreto Bay – as this will be the third week in a row that I have written about a party or social event that has taken place here. But, as worthy as the Reunion weekend and the Paella Cook-Off were as subjects of the past two week’s Blogs, I couldn’t miss writing about this week’s main event, Nellie’s - my friend and employer’s – 50th Birthday celebration.

In hindsight, this may in fact be one of the highlight parties of this winter’s season, with over 120 guests for a sit down dinner at the INN at Loreto Bay this past Thursday (bringing a whole new meaning to November 11th and Remembrance Day). Although a decade Birthday would be sufficient reason for a celebration itself, this November marked two more anniversaries for Nellie; 7 years of her life centered in Loreto and the fourth year of her living here full time.

So needless to say, Nellie has given a lot of thought to how and where she would
hold her party, with several different ideas under consideration over the past several months. However, the final plans for this week’s party started to “gel” a little over a month ago when she had a chance meeting in the arrivals area of the Loreto Airport on her return to Loreto earlier this Fall. As she was waiting for her bags to arrive, she was making small talk with the tall sandy haired man standing beside her waiting for his luggage.

Not being shy or retiring by nature, it took only a couple of minutes for her to find out that he was driving on from Loreto to his home in San Juanico, on the other side of the peninsula, and also that he was a professional, award winning Impersonator of David Letterman, the “dean” of Late Night TV comedy/talk shows, who commuted to Las Vegas where he performed regularly. A THEME was born there and then! Nellie told Greg that he would be the perfect entertainment for her upcoming party and email contacts were quickly exchanged so the details could be worked out over the weeks ahead. Only in Loreto, and only if you were Nellie, could you meet a David Letterman impersonator waiting for luggage and, in less than 5 minutes, make him part of the plans for your birthday party a month later!

Now that there was a “hook” to hang the rest of the plans on, things started to come together quickly for the rest of the event. Since the celebration was in part to recognize the significant role that Loreto Bay has played in Nellie’s life, over the past years, the INN at Loreto Bay was the logical venue. Although there have been some major improvements made to the property over the past six months, including renovations to the pools, freshening up the exterior and interior as well as refurbishing several of the restaurant areas, the management at the INN, operating under the new ownership of Homex, is still rebuilding it’s staffing as it prepares for the influx of visitors that will be coming to Loreto later this winter.

So hosting a dinner party, with entertainment, for over 120 guests, while
maintaining standards for regular Hotel services, was going to be a challenge for the Manager Peter Maxwell and all of his staff, this early in the season. Needless to say, this was not going to be a casual taco chips and beer sort of event – not for Nellie’s 50th – she had very specific ideas about the menu, grilled steaks and chicken with three kinds of salads, potatoes au gratin and rice, all served buffet style fresh from the mesquite fired grill.

Nellie also saw her event as a celebration for the whole community; Loreto Bay and the town of Loreto, as well as for her many friends and homeowners all over North America, so she made her invitation public through the Home Owner’s website, and having a Poster printed that she displayed several places advertising that tickets were available. Anticipating the appeal of such a celebration, the need for controlling access with tickets became apparent in the final few days before the event as people came into our Baja BOSS / Dorado Properties Offices and claimed the last few available before the maximum of 120 guests were reached.

Greg (a.k.a. “David Letterhead”) arrived the afternoon of the event, after a longer than normal 6 hour drive from San Juanico, delayed by “bathtub” sized potholes that were the worst he has seen in his many years of driving the challenging sections of road near his home. Nellie had arranged for him to use one of the Loreto Bay homes and after he had settled I took him to the INN for a sound check of my PA system which I had pre-set there the previous day. When we arrived, the colonnade outside the main dining room was in the process of being transformed into a beautiful open air (but sheltered) setting for the party.

The Guests were invited for cocktails at 6:00 pm and some arrived with North American punctuality, but many more drifted in over the next hour and the patio area outside the dining area filled with clusters of people in conversation who covered a wide cross section of local and Mexican business people mingling with a large number of Homeowners, some of whom planned their travel specifically to be here for the date! When finally most of the ticket holders had arrived, I managed to interrupt the socializing and get them to take seats at the tables for the entertainment.

Greg/Dave exploded onto the “stage” with huge enthusiasm and energy and proceeded to
do an opening monologue that I (as a two decade fan of the original comedian talk show host) instantly recognized as being an uncannily accurate depiction of the original Letterman’s style. Not only did “our Dave” have the vocal and physical idiosyncrasies down pat, what had been a passing similarity of appearance, when I met him arriving that afternoon dressed casually after a long drive, became an eerily familiar doppelganger of the “original Dave” when he was dressed in the elegant Black suit, crisp white shirt, red tie – and – trademark white socks!

After some typical Letterman material about topics of the day and poll results, one of the evenings highlights required Nellie to join “Dave” on stage while he read one of Letterman’s signature pieces, The Top Ten List. This night’s subject was: Top Ten Reasons Why Nellie Has Survived 50 Years. After extensive negotiations with the Home Office here is an exclusive report of that list, as it was read on the evening:

10. She is the only Gringa in Loreto Bay that ALWAYS wears stiletto heels – through the potholes, over the cobblestones, through the sand and gravel – Even mountain climbing
9. She dresses like she never left Scottsdale; pearls, chandelier earrings, big sunglasses and ALWAYS skirts & dresses.
8. In her purse, she carries her life with her at all times – 5 currencies, passport, camera, 2 phones, the most valuable Black Book in Baja, Get out of Jail Free cards – She has been known to leave 6 different countries at the same time.
7. Her Mercedes Coupe which alternately is her alter ego, life raft, and high speed therapy couch, and sled to the Salon.
6. Her Golf Cart/Truck which carries her to all the places she can’t walk to in the stilettos and has enough cargo space to carry dinner for 5.
5. When all else fails Nellie leaves town. In the past year she has been to: New York, Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Hawaii and here’s the weird one… Loreto
4. She lives in denial - denial about where she lives, denial about what she does, denial about the past, denial about the future – she has even been to the Nile to be in denial.
3. She started drinking the Kool-Aid in November ’03 and since then she has moved on to stronger things – we’ve all seen Nellie with a drink in her hand, but how many of us have ever actually seen her eating?
2. Over the past four years Nellie has had a number of different businesses; a Hotel, a Sushi Bar, a Charter Boat, FM3 Agency, Information Kiosk (“Ask Nellie”) Real Estate Broker and Property Management – a moving target is harder to hit!
1. She is Living La Vida Loca!

Following this, Nellie said a few words of greetings to her assembled friends and then the buffet lines were opened and the feast began! Great food in a beautifully
prepared venue, with attentive staff and good conversation should make for a success of any party, and this evening at the INN was no exception. The evening was capped off with the presentation of a magnificent chocolate Birthday Cake decorated with fruit and flowers and some specially imported (on that day’s flight) decorative candles accompanied by a lusty rendition of Happy Birthday!

Nellie, always the gracious Hostess, made a point of introducing many individuals from the party, giving each of the business people a friendly “plug” for their particular expertise or service and then expressed her appreciation for such a wonderful celebration of so many good things we all have to be thankful for here.

Bringing together over 120 people, local and ex-pat, business and pleasure, all of whom have in common the love and respect for Nellie, one of the pillars of our fledgling community, and doing it with memorable style and joy – this truly was a special night to be “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paella Cook-Off III

One of the measures of the development of a community is the establishment of recurring traditions or events that provide continuity. One such event that has achieved that status here in Loreto, and specifically the Nopolo area that surrounds the Loreto Bay development, is the now annual Paella Cook-off.

This year marked the third time there has been this competition and also the third time it has been featured on this Blog. For those of you who have not been reading “Living Loreto” since it’s beginning and missed the earlier postings ("A Big Week in Loreto", Nov. '09, "An Extrodinary Day", Nov. '08) the first event was held two years ago in the backyard and patio of Shelia and Manfred, the couple who were responsible for originating it.

Due to the success of that first competition, last year it was moved nearby to the
grounds of the Fonatur Offices here in Nopolo to accommodate the larger numbers of people from the town and surrounding area who wanted to compete and enjoy the variations on this traditional Mediterranean dish. This year, with even more interest in attendance, larger premises were sought and the INN at Loreto Bay was chosen to hold the competition. This was by far the best set-up for the event so far, and so I was pleased to hear an announcement by the organizers, the INN will now be the venue for the foreseeable future.

This positive development has been made possible with the co-operation of the Hotel Management and Homex, the new Owner’s of the property. I think this is an important indication of their desire to participate and encourage such community building events as they take on a higher profile with their "Las Villas de Mexico at Loreto Bay" development, which I have mentioned earlier this year and will no doubt be the subject of future postings.

The founding sponsor of the event, the Roganto Winery of Ensenada Baja, had a big presence with two Paella pans in competition as well as a popular and crowded table offering sample tastings of several of their delicious products as well as sales of all to hard to find fine wines made here in the Baja. Without the continued support of this much honoured vintner, it is safe to say that the Paella competition would probably not have celebrated it’s third anniversary and certainly not have grown to the size and popularity it has achieved.

The format of the competition is simple. Cooking teams volunteer to take part, with participation ranging from professional chefs of local restaurants to groups of friends and couples who all share a love of preparing fine food. Each competitor is responsible for providing all their own equipment including propane fired burners, Paella pans (some measuring up to 4 feet across) and all of their own ingredients.

While each recipe varies, in addition to a base of slowly cooked saffron rice these ingredients usually include seafood and shellfish, along with personal accents like chorizo sausage, chicken and a variety of vegetables. Preparing large quantities
(on average a competitor’s pan will serve about 20 people) of a dish that includes delicacies like lobster, scallops, octopus and shrimp adds up to a significant cost for each participant. In addition to the investment in the equipment and the cost of the ingredients, there is a growing trend to decorate each of the cooking stations with tasteful and traditional accents and “decor” to stage the presentation of the food.

After months of planning and organization, still managed in large part by Sheila with help from friends, the event began before 9:00 am when the cooking teams begin to arrive with their equipment and ingredients and start setting up in their designated location. This year the large grassy courtyard of the INN was the scene of these preparations and the perimeter of this area was surrounded by ten stations where the various teams set up under awning tents.

In addition to these food preparation areas there was another station where the organizers provided appetizers, salads and deserts to be distributed during the day
and the all important beverage bar where bottled water, soft drinks, Sangria (also donated by Roganto) and, of course ice cold cervesa were available. Another Loreto tradition was also represented, a beautifully quilted wall tapestry that had been crafted by skilled volunteers was on display and raffle tickets were available for a pre-Christmas drawing, the proceeds from which will benefit charity in the town of Loreto.

My modest contribution to the day’s activity was to set up my portable PA system and play music to cook by, followed later by music to eat by. So I was in the perfect place to observe all the preparations and have the opportunity to meet many of the participants, both cookers and diners, during the course of the day.

The center of the courtyard area that was enclosed by these stations was filled by
tented awnings provided by Corona Breweries, protecting a dozen large round tables each with up to ten chairs protected from the always perfect Baja sun. While some of the competitors were still setting up, the first of the diners started to arrive, purchasing their reserved 200 peso (less than $20) wristband passes and strips of drink tickets. These hard-core foodies circulated past the competitor’s areas, observing the preparations and visiting with each other and the cooks.

As more and more people arrived during the morning the whole courtyard area took on the atmosphere of a fiesta and community get-together as groups of new and old friends relaxed and chatted at shaded tables enjoying cold drinks and plates of tasty appetizers including spiced olives, hummus and local goat cheese tastefully marinated in herbed brine. Many pictures were taken and as the morning progressed and with the tantalizing aromas of the many pans simmering with their Paellas, the excitement grew with the crowd’s appetite.

Finally, as the noon hour approached the judging process began. A team of judges, including several of the leading local restauranteurs as well as several other individuals began by first examining each of the finished pans for their appearance and presentation. Following this, a second round of judging was done, this time sampling a portion of only the rice from each contestant’s pan in a blind comparison from portions identified by random numbers.

As this judging wrapped up, it was thankfully time for the over 200 hungry diners,
who had now assembled to sample the delicious results of the morning’s labour by the contestants, and lines quickly formed all around the perimeter of the courtyard. Some people choosing to begin at one or other of their favourite’s, while other, less discriminating just joined a convenient line up – but there were NO bad choices!

After everyone had a generous plateful of one or more versions of the dishes, the
tables were soon filled with happy eaters enjoying the savoury delights that were the object of the whole exercise. As this feast came to an end there was the anticipated announcements of the three winners of the presentation award followed by the three judged best overall in the all important flavour award. Each winner received a recurring award trophy and a token medal they could keep marking their achievement.

The winning teams were as follows:





Following the presentation of the awards, the various Sponsors received appreciative recognition, including the new Developer of the Loreto Bay project, Homex, who announced a further raffle draw to be held the following day at the site of their two model homes, where they would be awarding three prizes of complimentary, all inclusive weekend’s accommodations at the INN to some lucky attendees.

And so, by mid-afternoon all of the day’s preparations (which had begun weeks before for many participants) were packed up again and soon the INN’s courtyard began to be returned to it’s original condition. As the well fed, and in some cases, well rewarded, people of the community drifted on to whatever the remainder of their day held (in my case a well deserved afternoon siesta!) we all shared in the afterglow of good food and drink, shared in beautiful surroundings on a day of predictably perfect weather. This idyllic day would also importantly contribute over $50,000 pesos to those most in need in the larger community that has welcomed us to share in this perfect piece of Paradise. Surely this day is one of the best examples of the synergy that makes every day here a special part of “Living Loreto”!