Sunday, March 28, 2010

La Paz – that refreshes!

After I checked into the Seven Crowns Hotel on the Malacon in La Paz I made my way up to my room on the 5th floor. Having stayed there before, I knew the room would be small, but it was well kept, the bed was comfortable and the shower worked well. There is a restaurant, but I have not eaten there, and a roof top terrace bar, which I have frequented. My perception is that the Seven Crowns is a “business” hotel, as opposed to the tourist/resort Hotels along the Malacon, it is located close to Government Offices and the commercial core of this State Capital city of over 200,000.

Although there was wireless internet in the building, it didn’t quite reach to the fifth floor and so I had to go back to the Lobby to check email, and then returned to my room to get ready to go out for dinner. Although there are many good restaurants in La Paz, I decided to go back to the one I had been to on my last visit here. The unlikely named “Buffalo BBQ” is a great steak house a ten minute walk from the Hotel, and, although perhaps misleadingly, there is no Buffalo on the menu, the steaks are thick and well presented. The small entrance is unassuming with about half the tables in the front rooms and the rest in an open air courtyard out back, divided by the kitchens.

It was apparently a quiet Thursday night and there were only a couple of tables occupied out front, but I made my way to the back courtyard where I dined alone for the first half of my meal when another table was occupied by three Mexican businessmen. I had a large Caesar salad that wasn’t as traditional as I had hoped (since this salad was famously created in Mexico), chopped Romaine and a bit too much dressing which may have come from a bottle. But the NY Strip steak was thick and juicy, probably Sonoran, which is where the best Mexican beef is raised, served with crispy fries, and grilled vegetables – delicious!

The next morning I had an appointment at SAT, the Mexican Income Tax office at 9:30, just a block away from the Hotel. I stopped enroute for a light breakfast of coffee and a muffin at a sidewalk cafe and enjoyed watching the morning “bustle” on the Malacon with a view of the harbour. Not long after I took my seat on the sidewalk, the normal traffic was interrupted by a Police siren that went on, and on, and on, without seeming to get closer or further away. Eventually it became clear what was going on – there was a parade – and the siren was from a Police car that was escorting a collection of trucks loaded with kids wearing all manner of costumes. Each decorated vehicle was surrounded by a phalanx of mainly Mothers, protectively escorting the precious cargo.

After consulting with Mexican friends, I have determined that I witnessed a traditional “fiesta” which is a double-barrelled celebration, the birthday of Benito Juarez (revered as the most important President of Mexico for creating the Constitution in the mid 1800’s) and the first day of Spring. Typically, kindergarten aged children dress up (hence, the popularity of bumble bee and butterfly costumes) and they get paraded around.

Following my breakfast, enjoyed with a slice of Mexican street culture on the side, I made my way to the SAT office for appointment, with some trepidation, not that I am “offside” in any way with the Tax Department – far from it! This was the fourth time in the past year that I have had to go to this office (the closest one to Loreto) to complete the various steps in the registration process, so as to be eligible to pay Income Tax. Armed with a Spanish letter explaining what was required (provided by my accountant) and several other documents and my ever-ready Spanish/English dictionary, I was pleasantly surprised, and somewhat relieved, that the entire process took less than half an hour and I was back on the Malacon enjoying the beautiful first day of Spring, again.

Feeling, like taking a stroll along the waterfront, I walked about a mile along the harbour front, enjoying the statuary displayed along the way and looking at the boats anchored in the bay, many of which would be “live-aboards” belonging to ocean-going snowbirds. Eventually I returned, to my Hotel to check out and get on with the next priority of the day – SHOPPING!

There have been two major additions to the shopping universe here in La Paz; last year a Walmart and Sam’s Club opened, followed recently by a new Home Depot store, across the road near the entrance to the city. Previously, the closest location of these “flagship” stores was in Cabo San Lucas, and they were part of the reason that we would travel there to shop. Now that they are present in La Paz, there is less need to travel the additional two hours to Cabo. Even before these stores opened, there was good shopping available in La Paz. City Club is a Costco clone, carrying most of the same categories of products and laid out on a very similar plan and scale. In addition there are a number of other large Mexican based chain stores like Soriano and CCC, as well as several new SEARS stores (which, by the way, are owned by Carlos Slim, who has recently been crowned “richest man in the world”, passing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett). I have written here before about how the shopping in Loreto, particularly for food, has improved in the past few years. But, for many ex-pats and Mexicans alike, occasional trips to “the big city” are necessary to stock up on some of the things, beyond the staples, that are unavailable in Loreto.

It’s funny how my perspective has changed, back in Canada I rarely shopped at Walmart, but here in Mexico, I look forward to the opportunity to shop there with great anticipation! Coincidentally, I met neighbours from Loreto Bay in the parking lot carrying a few last bags out to their car. They had been to Cabo and had more or less filled their car there, but had to stop here in La Paz for a few more bags full of “treasures” to squeeze in before the final leg back to Loreto – everyone shops at Walmart!

I had a comprehensive list with me but still walked up and down every aisle in the store, so as not to miss ANYTHING. I started in the bakery, French baguettes and chibatta buns, a head of Romaine (I have learned never to pass up good lettuce!), a tray of nicely trimmed steaks and two packages of marinated ribs (Walmart is a great place to buy meat here!), Kleenex, Drano, good dish detergent, a new shower curtain and a set of new Teflon frypans were among my “finds”.

Across the road Home Depot beckoned, and this is a store I love, even in Canada! My list was shorter here, but more important, due to the unavailability elsewhere. After some careful searching I was excited to find a very nice antique finished metal curtain rod that could be extended to 12 feet – perfect for hanging my new Ikea drapes between the kitchen and dining room! An electric juicer for another neighbour, a desk lamp for my office, just the right kind of sliding hinges to replace the one that broke on a drop front desk at home, and (blush) a seat to fit the new toilet I that was a different size than the one I replaced earlier this winter rounded out my purchases.

After packing everything away, Denny was looking like he had indeed “been shopping”, I headed north out of town on the 4 lane road through the outskirts. About 10 km north of La Paz is currently the only Federal Army Inspection stop on the way to Loreto. Southbound from Loreto I was just waved through this stop, but northbound (toward the border) is a different matter. First you are detoured off the highway onto a parallel lane where you are instructed to stop and wait until it is your turn to pull ahead to the inspector who asks a few questions in Spanish; “where are you coming from, going to, are you on business or vacation?”.

Once you get used to the fact that you are being addressed by a soldier, dressed in crisp fatigues, heavily armed, and in a foreign language, these inspections become more routine. So far I have never had a very thorough search at one of these stops, but I have seen other vehicles being methodically emptied of their entire cargo by several soldiers, while the driver and passengers look on, rather forlornly. I have also seen trailers full of hay bales being carefully probed with long metal rods and transport trucks full of hundreds of cases of tomatoes being unloaded. The object of this exercise is twofold – drugs and guns – which is why the focus of the attention is concentrated on the northbound traffic.

My stop was again brief, thankfully, and I was once again on the road, where for long stretches of straight road I could maintain 120+ kmph, followed, inevitably by curves and hills, which cut my speed in half. A couple of times during the four hour drive I would get behind a couple of big trucks and it could take 10 or 15 minutes before there was sufficient space and time to pass. Construction on the road can also cause delays, but it is never a source of frustration for me, because I view this work as progress that has gradually improved the highway over the past 5 years I have been driving it.

A little over halfway back I passed through Constitution and then just before the “T” intersection for the turnoff to Loreto, I stopped at a roadside vendor’s truck and bought a 3 ft long 25 lb mesh bag of local oranges for 50 pesos, about $3.50. In past years these vendors were often parked on a curb in Loreto, providing a cheap and easy source of oranges, but this year, due to the hurricane last fall that blew the entire crop off the trees, oranges have been much scarcer and more expensive so I wanted to stock up and start enjoying fresh OJ again.

The final leg back to Loreto was uneventful, with the last half hour, as you pass through the Sierra Gigante range and drop down to sea level, particularly scenic. Following long stretches of ocean shoreline and some stunning vistas as you approach Loreto Bay, my favourite view of the development is as you pass between two rocky hills and then, laid before you - the emerald green golf course is backed up by the multi-pastel coloured homes with the Sea of Cortez sparkling in the background. Seeing such beauty and feeling a sense of homecoming, after travelling over 10,000 km round trip, reinforces even more strongly how happy I am to be “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Return Home

If you read last week’s Blog you will know that I spent the week visiting family and friends in Calgary, so this week I want to describe my return trip to Mexico.

The Westjet flight left at 11:00 am so I was at the Calgary airport about a quarter to 9:00 to checked in, and had some time to pick up some paperbacks and magazines for some new reading material when I got home. In the past there has been a reasonable selection of English books available at El Caballo Blanco (The White Unicorn), a bookstore in the town of Loreto, and our new Community Center has a growing collection of used books for loan, but new bestsellers are hard to find and there are practically no English magazines, so I didn’t miss the chance to pick up the latest Vanity Fair.

After a typically thorough security check, I got my last cup of Tim Horton’s coffee and made my way to the gate. The flight was full of vacationers, excited about starting their trip south for a spring break in the Los Cabos area and there were several overheard conversations about which timeshare properties they were going to. I was struck by the numbers of people who have a share in the many resorts that fill the beaches between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. It demonstrates the success of the marketing of these resorts and explains (if not justifies) the preponderance of timeshare salesmen that seem to be on every corner in these resort areas.

The four hour flight south was uneventful, arriving on time about 2:15 local time. Normally Baja Sur is on Mountain Time (the same as Calgary) with the northern state of Baja Norte keeping Pacific Time like California across the border. However, since we had “sprung forward” last weekend in North America and Mexico won’t shift it’s time until the beginning of April (no idea why), we had to set our clocks back an hour when we landed.

Having chosen a seat near the front of the plane, I was one of the first people off and made my way into the same terminal I had departed from a week earlier. Since I am travelling on an FM3 visa, I did not have to fill in the FMT tourist visa that was handed out on the plane, and I flashed my visa book at the clerk checking that the tourist visas were properly filled out and then made my way to one of the Immigration desks.

After turning in the copy of the exit form I had filled out when I left on the outbound flight, and getting my entrance stamp in the visa book, I made my way to the baggage claim area, where, for once, mine wasn’t the last bag off the plane. So there was no line up at the baggage scanner that X-rays all of the arriving luggage for inbound flights to Mexico. This precaution has always seemed redundant to me, why scan bags when they are getting OFF a plane? Since this is the only country I have travelled to that does this procedure, I have assumed that the reason is to check for incoming firearms, which are strictly prohibited here. But this begs the question, wouldn’t that sort of contraband be picked up in the security screening that all bags go through BEFORE they are loaded on the plane at the departure point? In any event, when I retrieved my bags at the other end of the machine, I presented myself at the Customs podium and handed over the declaration I had filled out on the plane. It was then time to “push the button”, which triggers a random Red/Green light to determine whether or not you are going to be selected for inspection of your luggage.

Not wanting to invoke the fickle finger of fate – but I personally take some satisfaction in my high percentage of “Green” lights on my many arrivals here in Mexico over the years - and since “Green means Go” (green-go, gringo?), I was once again free to proceed without any further inspection. This was a good thing, as it happens – since my rather large suitcase was 20 lbs overweight and contained considerably more than the $300 duty free allowance permitted to passengers arriving by air. (For the record, it is worth noting that the duty free allowance when you enter the country by in a vehicle is only $75 – contrary to logic, or perhaps because of it - since there is obviously far greater carrying capacity in a vehicle than what an airline passenger is allowed!) On this trip I was carrying half a dozen printer cartridges which alone accounted for more than half my allowance, some other hard to find office supplies and computer accessories, a set of Ikea drapes, and a replacement part for a neighbour’s high end oven, that on its own was worth more than double my allowance! Mid-winter trips back to Canada are always accompanied by a shopping list of things that would be impossible to find, or prohibitively expensive if they were available here.

All considered, I was exiting the busy Cabo airport within half an hour, wading my way through line ups of confused looking vacationers, some of whom were already drinking their first Mexican beer, and found “Denny” (my trusty Denali) patiently waiting for me in the parking lot outside the Terminal, looking a little dustier, but none the worse for wear, after its week-long stay. After loading my bags and plugging in the 12 volt cooler I had left in the back, I drove to the exit booth to pay for my parking.

You may remember from last week that I had timed my arrival back at the airport closely, after checking in and going into San Jose for lunch. So when I arrived at the parking lot and got my entrance ticket, I noticed that a sign that listed the parking rate for every hour, up to and including 24 hours – for which the charge was $354 pesos, almost $30 US a day or over $200 for the week! At the time, this came as an unpleasant surprise, since I had expected about half that rate, but since I didn’t have time to go to and from the off-terminal parking lots, I had no choice but to stick with my plan of parking at the Terminal. But when I pulled up to the kiosk and surrendered my ticket and started counting out my $500 peso notes, I was interrupted by the attendant asking for payment in Spanish.

Understanding spoken numbers is a challenge, they seem to say them so fast, and I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly so I asked him to repeat the amount –using the ever-useful “Gringo-in-the-headlights” look - so he reached for the ever-present calculator, punched in the number and showed it to me. I was right! I had heard “un mille – something” - it was only $1706 pesos about $130 US - less than $20/day, a much appreciated “long term” discount that the very detailed sign I had seen earlier, had failed to note!

So I paid the man and left the lot, feeling almost a thousand pesos richer than I had been prepared for, and headed away from the Terminal. To be immediately faced with two choices – an arrow pointing to Cabo San Lucas and another to San Jose del Cabo. Deciding quickly, I took the San Lucas exit, and within a few kilometres, realized that I guessed wrong. I went on for about 10 km before I could U-turn and back track to get on the San Jose road again, where I saw the proper exit for La Paz a few “kliks” further on, and was finally on my way again. The drive along the now familiar road I had travelled the previous week, was largely uneventful – barring some heavier traffic and slow stretches caused by construction zones and transport trucks – but I still reached the junction with the road to Todos Santos in about two hours and was arriving in the outskirts of La Paz in less than 2 ½ hours.

I headed for “La Paz Centro” and made my way to the main thoroughfare that became the Malacon, along the edge of the large bay that downtown La Paz is built upon, and managed to pick the right one way road to get me to the parking entrance of the Hotel I had planned to stay at. After squeezing into a very narrow stall, the last vacant one under the Hotel building, I unloaded my suitcase and made my way to the Registration Desk, where I asked for a room. After replying that I did not have a reservation, (“we don’ need no stinkin reservations!”) I was relieved to hear that they did have ONE room available and so I didn’t hesitate to accept the rather pricy $1,100 peso - $90 US - rate they quoted and was soon settled in my room.

Next week I plan to tell you about my day in La Paz and trip back to Loreto and I promise there will be some pictures, and I offer my apologies for the lack of illustrations in this piece. But in conclusion, I have often heard it said that you don’t feel settled in a place till you return again from where you used to live. This brief trip back to Calgary, followed by my return “home” this weekend, proves to me that THIS is where I live now, and after all,that is really what “Living Loreto” is all about!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Loreto to Calgary - via Los Cabos!

The subject of travelling to and from Loreto is a source of frequent discussion among those of us who live and/or visit there. This week I tried out a new option that is gaining in popularity among western Canadians, who make up a sizable proportion of home owners in Loreto Bay.

Westjet is a relatively new Calgary based airline that has been aggressively expanding their routes to sun destinations in recent years, after beginning as a low cost western regional carrier. They have a daily service to the San Jose del Cabo airport from several cities including Calgary.

Currently in Loreto, there is only one international connection – Alaska/Horizon flies between Los Angeles and Loreto 4 times a week in a small commuter jet. Because of the limited number of seats available on this size of plane, these flights have been fully booked more or less since Christmas and there are few seats available until well into the spring season this year. Due in part to the scarcity of seats, the airfare is high – $375 for the LA to Loreto leg and almost $1200 return from Calgary.

This situation has caused resourceful travellers to look for alternative flight plans including La Paz and Cabo as alternative arrival points and then travelling to Loreto from there. When I was looking at options about a month ago for a mid-season visit back to Calgary I found a return flight from Cabo direct to Calgary for a total of $680.00 – almost half of the Alaska/Horizon fare and not requiring an overnight stopover.

Anyone who has travelled through LAX (Los Angeles airport) knows that it was not the highlight of their trip – it is huge, busy, always under renovation without seeming to improve the facilities, and the current security concerns have only added to the stress and discomfort of travel through this major international hub. Due to scheduling changes at Alaska Airlines a couple of years ago, it is no longer possible for most of us in western Canada to make connections to or from Loreto in one day from our departure point. This adds much more time, additional expenses for Hotels and meals and the necessity of going through more security screening and all the frustrations that now entails!

Therefore, the opportunity to travel direct to Calgary in 4 ½ hours without the delays, expense and frustration of the Alaska/Horizon alternative was very appealing – particularly at half the price! However, the Airport at Cabo is over 500 km south of Loreto and so the drive there had to be figured into the itinerary as well.

Perhaps a bit of geography is called for here, for those of you not familiar with travelling in the Baja. There are actually two communities located at the southern tip of the peninsula which are referred to collectively as "Los Cabos" (or The End")– Cabo San Lucas, which most people refer to as “Cabo” and San Jose del Cabo, a smaller (I think prettier) town with more colonial influenced architecture which is located over 30 km east of “Cabo”. The international airport for the whole “Cabo area” is located about another 20 km east of San Jose.

The departure time for my flight north was 4:15 pm so I was sure that I could drive there that day from Loreto, with a good early start, but I also had to decide which route to take. The Highway south from Loreto climbs through the Sierra Giganta mountain range then leaves the coast and travels across a high desert plateau towards the center of the peninsula just over 100 km to a “T” intersection at the town of Insurgentes. If you are heading to the west coast for whale watching, you would turn north at this intersection and pass through Insurjentes (a small dusty town with nothing in particular to recommend it) and then head west again when you leave the town to get to Magdalena Bay.

Heading south, I turned left at the intersection and continued on for about 30 km to the small city of Constitucion which is a fairly well developed business and commercial center servicing the commercial market garden industry in the area. (When we first started living in Loreto about 4 or 5 years ago, before there was the current choice and variety of food stores, we would drive an hour and a half each way to Constitucion to shop at the “Super Lay” supermarket, thank goodness those days are over!)

After leaving Constitucion it’s just over 200 km south to La Paz, the state capital of Baja Sur. This is a true city of over 120,000 people and with the recent additions of Walmart and Home Depot to the already existing collection of “big box”, department and specialty stores, La Paz has become the first choice for most shopping expeditions from Loreto in search of the “extras” that are impossible to find at home. About 30 km south of La Paz the highway forks, with one road going to Todos Santos, enroute to Cabo San Lucas, and the other sign posted for Los Barriles, also known as the east coast road, which ended up in San Jose del Cabo.

When I was planning this trip, my first inclination was to take the east road because the airport was east of San Jose and it seemed clearly the most direct route. I have travelled both ways, through Todos Santos from Cabo about a half a dozen times and once by the east road several years ago. But the route through Todos Santos is by far the most well travelled, and the four lane twinning is now completed on almost half the highway from the fork through to Cabo with new work underway on the remainder. Most people I spoke to about it in Loreto, recommended taking that route, and while it would no doubt be faster most of the way to Cabo, I was concerned about the time it would take to travel the 33 km between there and San Jose plus the additional 15 or 20 km beyond to the airport. Traffic between these two destinations is the heaviest of anywhere south of Tijuana and road construction can make things even worse.

The “knock” against the east road was that it was slow going as it travels through some mountainous areas and twists and turns as it climbs up and down. My recollection of my first trip on this road wasn’t that bad, but it was several years ago and I wasn’t concerned about the travel time – which was my main focus now, with no flexibility in the flight departure time. So, I decided to go with my first instinct, and I was glad I did, although there were several stretches where 50 or 60 kmph was about as fast as possible with the switchbacks in the road, there was almost no other traffic (due I suspect to the improvements in the new highway to Cabo) and so I travelled the 145 km from the fork to the airport in an hour and forty-five minutes arriving at the airport at 12:45, exactly 6 hours from departing Loreto Bay to cover the 520 km.

Up until now, I haven’t mentioned the fact that I had a companion with me on this trip. Dorlene, a Home Owner in Loreto Bay, had guest who was leaving on the same Westjet flight the following day. She had heard “on the grapevine” that I was driving down, and so when she asked me if I could give her friend Deb a ride - I was very glad to have the company and we made plans accordingly. I said that I wanted to make an early start, and Deb agreed to be waiting on the south road into Loreto Bay at 6:30, I picked her up at 6:45, and after a brief farewell with her host and friend, we were on our way.

Deb proved to be a great travelling companion, which in my case, I’m embarrassed to say, means she is a very good listener! We talked mainly about Mexico in general and Loreto in particular, with several stories about life before Mexico thrown in for good measure. Good company and conversation made the time and miles fly and probably contributed to our excellent elapsed time for the trip.

When we arrived at the airport I found Terminal 3 (yes, there are 3 terminals!) and parked in a loading zone to check on my flight’s departure time and status. The agent at the Westjet desks told me that they were already accepting bags for check-in, even though the flight wasn’t boarding for over 3 hours. So I went back to the car and got my suitcase and checked in, which also required me to be escorted around the outside of the terminal to a back door where I was lead back into the arrivals area and to the immigration area where my FM3 was stamped and I got the appropriate travel document. The agent and I then retraced our steps back to the check-in where I got my boarding pass and I was back in the car and heading out of the airport in half an hour.

In the meantime, Deb had been fending off the airport parking guards and was just about going to have to drive around and pick me up later when I finally returned. We then found our way into the center of “old” San Jose where we had a delicious lunch at a sidewalk restaurant on the town square before I dropped her off at her Hotel a few blocks away for her overnight stay before she boarded her flight 24 hours later.

The flight was full of happy Canadians returning home from their holidays, many after staying in one of the dozens of time share resorts in the area, and, although we were a bit delayed by turbulent headwinds most of the flight back, we arrived in Calgary just before 9:00 pm. After a blessedly quick and almost courteous

Immigration process and reasonably efficient bag retrieval, I emerged into the welcome of the Calgary airport about 15 hours after leaving Loreto that morning – a long day, but no comparison to the ordeal of my previous trips north by air!

Next weekend I will post a bit about my return trip and perhaps some highlights of my shopping expedition in La Paz where I plan to overnight on the way back home to begin “Living Loreto” again.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Errands - Loreto style

This Thursday was my day off. I am now usually working a regular 5 ½ day week, but since the office was covered by my colleague and I had a list of errands that had built up over the past several weeks, I decided to take the day off and get everything done.

I am going to be travelling back to Calgary next week, driving to Cabo on Thursday and catching a 4:00 pm Westjet flight direct to Calgary, so I wanted to get an oil change before making the trip, but before dropping the car off I had to make the first stop. A couple of days ago I had noticed that one of my bicycle tires had several bulges and, on closer inspection I realized that the rubber had started to rot away, probably due to a combination of age and sun exposure (come to think of it, much the same could be said about me) so I threw the bike in the back of Denny (the Denali) and Bicitaller Manny was my first stop. This is a great little bike shop off a side street in town where I have had some tune-ups and tubes repaired before, and so I wheeled the bike into the shop and the lady behind the counter had a choice of two knobby mountain tires. I picked the one I liked and left the bike with her, it would be ready in a couple of hours.

While I was in the shop, there were two guys in spandex biking suits with their serious looking touring bikes complete with panniers and the paraphernalia of a road trip so I struck up a conversation with them and they told me they had just arrived in town after riding from Tecate, about 1,000 km, in FIVE DAYS. I remarked about the trip and asked them if they were camping and they said no, they had stayed in Hotels all the way down – that was why it had taken them SO LONG – they had to stop for the night where there were Hotels and so they couldn’t make AS GOOD TIME! 200 km per day for five days up and down some significant mountain ranges with nothing but desert in between and no shoulders on the road, I was impressed. But they went on to explain that they were in the shop looking for bike boxes because they were flying out on the afternoon plane and they needed boxes to ship their bikes home with them. Not surprisingly, Manny didn’t have any proper freight boxes, but they were going to find some cardboard boxes and pack the bikes in that, with lots of duct tape.

So I left the cyclists to their challenge, and gave them my card with the blog address and told them they were going to be in my posting this week – (if you’re reading this, hats off to you and I hope the bikes made it back OK). After leaving the bike I then made my way to one of several aciete cambio (oil change) places in town, choosing one that also did carwashes, because Denny was looking thoroughly Baja, after not being washed for a couple of months. When I pulled in to the shops driveway, which ended in an open pit where they could access the underside of the car, I told them I wanted a change and a lube job as well (grasa) and then I asked about a wash, and the attendant said sorry, no agua. The water had been turned off somewhere in town and who knew when it would come on again – no agua – no limpio!

After leaving the car with them I then made my way on foot across town on my next errand, but first I passed by the Papelleria (stationery store) that is owned by my accountant, to check on the appointment I had asked her to make for me at the Tax Office in La Paz, where I would stop on my way back, on the return trip from Calgary. That business taken care of, I continued on to find the new Barber Shop I was looking for.

As some of you who read this blog regularly realize, I do not make a habit of frequenting Barber Shops very often – in fact it has been about 6 months since my last trim in Calgary before I came down here. But, I am going back to Calgary to have a visit with my Mother, as well as some other family and friends, and I thought a bit of a trim was in order so as to look my best.

But there is more of a story to my choice of a Barber. I met Luis about a year ago, when he was working part-time at the Golf Course Clubhouse (when we still had a functioning Clubhouse) and he gave me his card, explaining that he was a Peluquero (Barber). I gestured at my then almost shoulder length locks and said I wasn’t really interested. I would see him around the development from time to time, he had several other jobs on the go including pool maintenance and then I heard from word of mouth that he was also a masseuse – truly a multi-talented individual!

When I returned in the Fall Luis wasn’t around and I lost track of him, until a couple of months ago, when someone told me that they had met him in town and he told them that he had opened a Barber Shop. So, a few days later I decided to try to find him and see if he was still doing massage. The cell number on his card still worked and I invited him out to my place to do a massage. He arrived the next Sunday morning, right on time, Sundays being the only day he could massage as he kept his Shop open the other 6 days of the week. It was a great massage and so I booked another one for two weeks later, and last Sunday we had our third appointment.

Of course, when I decided to get a trim, I was going to go to Luis and he had told me he was right beside the Estafeta Office, which is the local Baja courier. The shop is located about a half a block off Juarez on Misioneros street and I walked in to find a brightly painted little shop with one chair in front of a mirror and a couple of waiting chairs by the door. We chatted about his business while he did a quick trim and he said that things were going well, he was doing more cuts a day each month since he opened in December. I paid him the 50 peso charge (about $4.00) and confirmed my next massage appointment for the Sunday after I get back from my trip, and then I was off on my next errand.

I wanted to pick up a few small gifts to take back to Calgary and so I headed over to "Conchita’s Curious" (which I think was supposed to mean curios, but then again, maybe curious was right after all) to pick them up. While I was making my selection, two ladies who were making a purchase recognized me and we got into a conversation. They had seen me showing the house in Loreto Bay across from theirs several times, and asked me about it and set up to come and see it before one of them left for home. These sort of impromptu meeting serve as a reminder that it really is a small community that we live in!

When I left Conchita’s it was time to get back to pick up my car at the oil change and after I paid my 710 peso bill ($55) for oil change, filter and lube, I headed back to Manny’s before they closed at 1:30 (for siesta, reopening at 4:00 until 7:00) to pick up my bike with it’s nice new black knobby tire for which I was charged 165 pesos (about $12.50 - $11 for the new tire, the rest for labour!). By this time, my two new cyclist friends had boxed up one bike and Manny was cutting away at a couple of cartons, making them into one for the second bike. When I asked how they were doing, they grinned a bit nervously and said they had 25 minutes before they had to jump into a taxi to get to the airport to catch their plane, again, I hope they made it!

I still hadn’t given Denny his bath, but there was another little wash just around the corner from Manny’s, so I drove past and talked to the proprietor, who first of all had to check if he had enough water in the big “cisterna” in the yard (I guess the water shortage was wider spread than I realized) but he said it would take at least 2 hours because he was working on another car. I decided to try one of several other nearby places and found one a block away (I swear there are more car washes in this town of 12,000 than in Calgary with over a million people!) who said they could do it in an hour and a half so we agreed on the time and I left the car with them.

By now it was time for lunch and I knew where I was going to go. I re-crossed town for the third time on foot and headed for my friend Hector’s “new” restaurant La Cava. I say “new”, because I am somewhat ashamed to say that Hector (who is my next door
neighbour in Loreto Bay) opened his tapas style restaurant before Christmas and, until today, I had not made it in for a meal yet. I had a delicious arachara steak sandwich on chibata bread with some caramelized onions and some lettuce and grape tomatoes on the side along with several Negra Modelo beers. Hector also has a small wine shop adjoining his restaurant, where you can choose your bottle and pay the regular retail price plus a small corkage and enjoy it with your meal, before picking up a couple more bottles to take home with you after the meal, if you choose.

Following my delicious meal, it was about time to head back to pick up my car but I had just enough time to stop in and say hello to my friend Jill, who lives with Ben in a beautiful home they built just off the main town plaza at about the same time we were building Casablanca here. (Jill has also guest blogged last year about their trip on their boat Alley Cat, to La Paz.) Then it was back to the car wash where I hardly recognized the newly beautiful Denny, gleaming at the side of the road, it had been so long since he was clean I had almost forgotten what the colour was underneath. I paid the 100 pesos ($8.00) which included a thorough interior cleaning, and then returned to Loreto Bay, arriving back about 4:00 pm with a feeling of a great sense of accomplishment with my day of errands. Getting all that done in less than 5 hours – and having a great time doing it – that is really “Living Loreto”!