Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reunion with Food and Power!

This past week the main event was the first (annual?) Loreto Bay Reunion. What made this event special was that it was wholly organized by, and for Homeowners, with the goal of recapturing the positive energy, dare I say magic, which was one of the ingredients that caused us to fall in love with this place in the first instance.

Those feelings, had their beginnings during the sales events that each of us participated in, and have sustained many of us through the trials and tribulations that we have experienced during the process of building our homes here.

The idea behind the reunion had it’s beginnings with several former employees of the
original Developer and has gained momentum in the past several weeks as more and more people have arrived here for short or long stays. Any doubts about the amount of support and interest there would be in the event were dismissed on Thursday afternoon, when over 60 people gathered at the Community Pool for an informal get together.

Dar and Ed (who hold Honorary Homeowner status, despite actually living in town, due to their substantial influence in the early stages of the Development) organized the margaritas and beer and provided appropriate background music for this welcome party. One of the other organizers, Laurie, circulated the crowd selling tickets to the dinner party to be held at the INN on Saturday night, and due in part to her efforts, the initial 80 tickets were sold and another 40 were made available most of which also sold by the time of the dinner.

The following evening, on Friday, people were encouraged to get together in their own groups and have dinners in town at one of several restaurants, some of which offered specials for the event. Earlier in the day Peter Body had an Open House at his design studio on the Paseo, where he specializes in renovations, landscape design and general contracting services. This was so well attended that the people who attended overflowed the office space and took over the sidewalk in front of the PJB Design Studio on the Paseo.

On Saturday there was a picnic tour to the Islands and several nature walks in and around the Development and I offered Real Estate Tours of several of our current listings to showcase some of the different floor plans now available for resale. I was pleasantly surprised when over a dozen interested Homeowners, along with several of their guests, participated and seemed to enjoy seeing through these homes, particularly a few of the less common plans.

That evening the big event was a Beach “Partay” held at the INN, which had prepared a delicious buffet served in the recently renovated pool/courtyard. Before the meal, there were a few words from some of the organizers, welcoming everyone and recalling similar evenings which we all had participated in during our Sales Events in the past. There were also a few words of introduction and welcome from a senior
representative of Homex, the new Developer who now owns the INN. Homex also generously hosted a wine and beer bar during the cocktail appetizers and throughout the dinner.

With over a hundred people in attendance, each table during the dinner became it’s own party, and following the meal, people mingled and visited until about 10:00 pm under the clear starry night sky of another perfect evening in Loreto Bay. Many people commented during the evening on the warm sense of community that was in the air that night. It was a special way to begin a new winter season that already feels more vibrant and cohesive than any previous year so far, in the early history of Loreto Bay. I am looking forward to seeing how that sense of community continues to grow and develop as more and more people arrive for short or long stays in their homes during the coming months.

On Sunday the organized events wrapped up with a quiet brunch at the INN. Although
some people were only here for a short visit, to coincide with the Reunion, many of us are settling in for a longer term here, and this weekend’s activities have provided a great beginning to what I am sure will be the busiest and most optimistic time so far in the Loreto Bay Community. I for one, hope that this Reunion becomes an annual launch to each winter season, reminding us all of the reasons we chose to be here and why we want to stay and see this special place fulfill, and exceed, the hopes and dreams we all had for it at the beginning.

While the reunion was a focal point of this week, it was not the only noteworthy event. An important part of any community is the access to goods and services within it and there have been two major openings this week that will contribute to our life here.

About a year ago I devoted this space to the opening of the first grocery/convenience store in Loreto Bay, Baja Onsite, owned and operated by Evan and Julie (with assistance from their two young boys in charge of quality control of the pop and chip inventory!). During last winter their modestly sized store steadily added more and more products, requiring more shelving and cooler capacity, until by the end of the spring the store had overgrown it’s location and they decided something had to be done.

This Fall, renovations began on a new, much larger store which could accommodate all
of their inventory and allow them to expand the selection into even more commodities. Many long days were spent preparing this new space, while continuing to operate in the original location, until they were finally able to open this week in a space which is three times the size. While they have added a wider selection of dry goods and packaged foods for the opening, Evan and Julie promise many more delights to come, like a deli counter with cold cut meats and cheeses, frozen Angus beef cuts and other prime meats, refrigerated fresh fruits and vegetables and - wait for it - Onsite DELI SANDWICHES AND PIZZA in the near future.

The idea of being able to pick up a hot-from-the-oven Pizza within walking distance
of my casa is a fantasy that I thought would be years in the future, but thanks to Evan and Julie’s hard work, determination and ongoing investment, I expect to be enjoying this delicious evidence of our growing community in the near future! I know I join with all other Homeowners who have seen the new store, to express my gratitude to this ambitious and entrepreneurial couple for contributing in this important way to our lifestyle here.

Although it is my pleasure to do so, I also pledge to support their endeavours as much as I can, and encourage all of the Loreto Bay community to do the same. Already I am changing my shopping habits and now make a point of checking out what they have on hand before I head into town to do my “hunting and gathering”. If you take the time to do this, I’m sure you’ll find (as I have) that not only are many of the staples now available here in our own community, but they also have a growing list of products that are not available anywhere closer than La Paz or Cabo! Continued success to Evan & Julie!

Appropriately, in this week that saw the opening of a new larger food store, we also
saw the launch of a new store catering to a critical demand that is shared by all Homeowners in Loreto Bay. For the past several years Greg has developed a reputation as a skilled and experienced electrical contractor here in Loreto Bay. I have heard many stories from Homeowners, of his success in sorting out the sometimes unique (verging on eccentric) electrical systems that can power our homes here.

As I’ve gotten to know Greg over these years, he has described the reality that there is no guarantee of compliance with any sort of “code” when it comes to the way the wiring was put into our homes. So, in the not uncommon event of electrical problems developing as we live in these homes, it takes a special skill (of almost detective proportions) to figure out what was done originally, and how to fix it and make it work properly.

So it is with great pleasure that I can announce that Greg, with the charming and able assistance of his wife Jane, have opened The Power Store on the Paseo this week. In addition to stocking an excellent selection of hardware, light bulbs, hard to find electrical items, custom light fixtures, solar path lights and much more, the Power Store specializes in power conditioners.

This responds to a very real need to protect electrical appliances and components
from power fluctuations, both high and low, that are a fact of life here with the instability of the electrical grid. These systems are available in a range of sizes from single outlet protection to whole home coverage and can also include integrated generators than can provide uninterrupted power in the uncommon, but always potential, event of a blackout of the CFE grid.

Although they have just opened their store, Greg’s experience “on the ground” is evidenced by the carefully selected inventory of the most needed/hardest to find electrically related products. Jane adds an eye for d├ęcor items and she promises that they will continue to add more stock and variety to the store as they get settled into their new enterprise and they welcome product suggestions from their new customers.

I encourage you to drop in when you are in Loreto Bay and you will make finds that you previously would have had to go to a Home Depot type store to get. I am sure that as word travels into the surrounding community and into town, customers will be coming from outside Loreto Bay to purchase this hard to find hardware. Who knew, Loreto Bay – a shopping destination!

So, this week we have had over 100 Homeowners participating in various events and parties to celebrate our “first” Reunion, the expansion of our first community food store and the opening of a new business to help us live more comfortably in our homes – not bad for end of October and the beginning of our new winter season!

Meeting new and old friends in a time of celebration and supporting individuals who believe in the future success and growth of this community, it’s been a good week to be “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Incredible Journey!

This week I am going to tell you about an experience that had it’s beginnings during my last drive down to Loreto, but I did not include it in last week’s posting.

About halfway between Catavina and Guerrero Negro (which comes about as close to the middle of nowhere as anywhere on the drive) I saw two cyclists pulled over at the side of the road, one with a prominent Canadian flag. Now, while seeing cyclists on the road is not an unprecedented event, it is certainly an uncommon one, given the narrow roads and almost complete lack of shoulders, riding a bicycle on the Mexican #1 Highway is a very different experience than on most North American roads. Added to this, the long stretches (hundreds of kilometres in some cases) between any form of civilization, requires anyone hardy (or foolish) enough to undertake this trip to be completely independent and self-sufficient.

With this in mind, when I saw these two men on the side of the road my first thoughts were; are they in trouble, do they need help, and so I started to slow down and made eye contact with them, giving them a questioning “thumbs-up” as we quickly approached and passed them. In the brief time that it took for us to pass they responded with smiles and a wave, but when I looked in my rear view mirror I noticed one of them waving with what appeared to be some urgency. Fortunately, we happened to be in one of the few places where it was possible to actually pull off the pavement onto a sandy turnout and so I decided to stop and make sure things were OK.

The two riders quickly hopped on their bikes and pedalled the 50 yards to where we
had stopped, and Grant (my passenger) and I were out of the car to meet them when they arrived. After the introductions to Matt (the one with the Canadian flag) and Loic, his travelling companion, we learned that Matt was from a suburb of Edmonton (where Grant was from, just north of Calgary) in Canada and his wave after we had passed was in acknowledgement of my Alberta licence plate, the first one they had seen on the road since northern California. Loic was from even further away, France, and the two of them had met in Vancouver from where they had travelled almost 3,000 km to where we were meeting, in the middle of the Baja peninsula, over the past two months.

That trip on it’s own was certainly impressive enough, but Matt went on to say that he had actually started his own trip two months before that – at the ARCTIC OCEAN! As this incredible fact was registering in my mind I was at a loss to say much (not a normal condition for me) so I blurted out something to the effect of; “So, I guess you are headed to Cabo?” since that is the literal end of the road in the Baja. But no, I was in for an even bigger surprise when Matt explained that they were headed
to La Paz (about 1,000 km south of where we were then standing) where they were going to take the Ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan, on the mainland and continue south from there, through the rest of Mexico and Central America, carrying on the length of South America ending up at the southernmost tip of the continent! Oh yes, they also mentioned that they expected that the trip would take the next 18 months to two years!

Needless to say, Grant and I were mightily impressed. In fact, meeting these two young guys and hearing about their incredible journey tended to put our four day “dash” from Alberta in a large comfortable SUV somewhat in perspective, in a word, we were humbled! After a 5 or 10 minute conversation at the side of the highway it was apparent that we both had to move on, although it was with some disappointment that we parted, as I was fascinated to talk more with them and learn about their travels. Since they would be passing through Loreto (they figured it would take them at least a week to get where we were going to arrive later that day) I gave them my card and offered to be of assistance if they needed some help when
they got there – hoping, in the back of my mind, to meet them again and learn more about these two adventurers. After checking that they didn’t need anything (water, etc.) we bade them farewell and “Vaya con Dios” (Go with God) and climbed back into my car and carried on our way. Not surprisingly, Grant and I spent a good part of the rest of the drive talking about the remarkable journey our two new “friends” were on, with the inevitable comparisons to our own trip, which had paled significantly in proportion to the challenges they faced on a daily basis.

Although the next few days after our arrival in Loreto were busy, I thought often about Matt & Loic and hoped they were OK and would get in touch, so I was happy to see an email from Loic a day or so later, sent from Guerrero Negro. In the message he asked if I knew of anyone heading down here from Canada in the near future, who might be able to bring down several hard to find (in Mexico) bike accessories and camping gear. As it happened, my friends and neighbours, Boyd and Camille were going to be arriving in the next week or so, and I was able to forward Loic’s email which listed three specific items by their Mountain Equipment Co-op’s product numbers (a large outdoor outfitter in Canada). Boyd was able to confirm that all three items were in stock at their local branch of the store and he was willing to pick them up, bring them in their luggage on the plane and get paid for them here on arrival. The requested items were a bike odometer/computer, a compact tire pump(his old one had worn out) and a backpacker’s hammock/lean-to/chair that folded down into a small pouch.

We made arrangements for them to email me when they reached Loreto, where they were planning on taking a few days rest, and we would get together after their goods arrived and make the exchange – Oh yes, did I mention that for these two guys, “taking a few days rest” included ocean kayaking while they were here? To get a better picture of what these distances mean, relative to travelling by car, you can basically say that these cyclists can cover about the same distance in a full day of riding as we can do in an hour by car. So when you consider that it took us about 5 hours to drive to Loreto from where they were in Guerrero Negro, the same trip would take them about 5 days!

But arrive they did, and I received their email to that effect a couple of days
before Boyd was to arrive with the goods, so we agreed, again by email, that I would send them a message when I had the things. We would then arrange to meet in town (15 km north of Loreto Bay where I live) and I would pick them up, with their bikes, and bring them back to my home for a meal and a good night’s rest before they continued on their journey. I met them at the Marina on the Malacon in town, as they had been beach camping near-by during their stay in Loreto, and with some juggling, we managed to load both bikes and their assorted panniers (which carried every possession they had with them) water bottles, sleeping bags etc.

This was another reality check for me, each of these guys were carrying less “stuff” on their bikes than I (I’m ashamed to admit) had in my “overnight” bag for the four day trip down from Canada (let alone the fully packed vehicle loaded with boxes, more suitcases, golf clubs etc). Talk about travelling light – they were carrying everything they needed to camp, eat, and repair their bikes - and it could have all fit in a good sized carry-on!

When we arrived at my home they enthusiastically accepted the offer of hot showers
and a chance to do laundry and I set about preparing a dinner that I hoped would be an improvement on what they were used to “on the road”. By the way, another detail that came out during our long conversations about their trip, they mentioned that in the over two months they had been travelling from Vancouver they had spent a total of two nights in campgrounds – both times because they had met up with other cyclists on the road who wanted to stay in those places. Otherwise, Matt and Loic had slept “rough” finding what protection was available just off the side of the road, so they were somewhat shielded from view from the road. Another interesting precaution they took was to carry their bikes from the pavement until they were out of sight behind a rock or tree or something so that the wheel marks would not lead others to where they were camping.

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression, these guys were not apparently the
least bit concerned about their safety travelling this way. In fact, Matt made an aside comment that I found very telling of his philosophy about the trip. He said that you only meet “good” people when travelling by bicycle – mainly because you were so demonstrably vulnerable. It was obvious to anyone you met that cyclists are, by their nature and means of transport, non-threatening. For the same reasons, it is obvious to “bad” people that there is probably nothing of value to be had from interfering with people travelling by bike, they have so little with them! Finally, everyone else probably would not give much of a thought one way or the other and would never meet them anyway. Hence, you only meet GOOD people when you are riding a bike!

This philosophy has the ring of truth, if only for it’s simplicity, but I am still
in awe of their bravery, determination, stamina and resourcefulness, and I found it inspiring to meet, and later get to know a little about these two remarkable people on a life adventure that only a very few special individuals would even contemplate, let alone actually be in pursuit of as we spoke! Meeting remarkable people passing through this extraordinary place is truly one of the best parts of “Living Loreto”!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bienvenidos a Loreto!

Living Loreto begins again!

I am very happy to welcome you back to my version of life in a special place – Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico. After spending four months over the past summer visiting with friends and family back in Canada, I was looking forward to returning “home”, here in the Loreto Bay development, 15 km. south of the town of Loreto.

This return marks the beginning of my fourth winter Living Loreto and the third year of writing this Blog, for which, your ongoing support leaves me humbly grateful. Although I have met some of you, my readers, many more remain anonymous, but no less a real presence, bringing with you a sense of obligation. For those of you who have ventured to the very bottom of this page, you will know that I have received over 35,000 hits since starting the Blog two years ago. This is a number that I have trouble grasping, but one that I take some considerable pride in.

But with that pride there comes the sense of obligation, my commitment to putting into words the thoughts, impressions and day to day experiences that make up my life here. What I have come to realize is that by setting myself this challenge of putting down in words something relevant to my life here, I am able to view and experience things in a more involved and present way. No less than Socrates said it best; “An unexamined life is not worth living” (imagine the Blog he would have written!). So for that, I thank you - even though, I frequently feel some anxiety as the weekend approaches and it’s time to sit down and produce the next instalment.

But that is followed by the sense of relief and satisfaction that I feel when I hit the “publish” button and send these thoughts into the ether, where you can click on them, add your presence to the growing total of readers from week to week, and by so doing set up the whole process for another week. So we have a symbiotic relationship, by you coming back week after week to read these thoughts you create the obligation for me to continue to write things down and publish them. To the extent that you get some benefit from reading this, you provide me with an enhanced life experience by the act of writing about it. In fact, often I find myself looking for situations or experiences that would make a good Blog and so you become my motivation for doing things I might not have done otherwise, to have material for the next instalment.

Enough navel gazing for one piece – now to bring you up to date with my recent
return trip and first impressions as I am settling in again. I made the return drive from Calgary Alberta (north of the Montana border) in 4 days, covering just less than 4,000 km. On this trip I was accompanied by a fellow Homeowner in Loreto Bay, Grant, who wanted to experience the drive with me, in preparation for his own first trip down by vehicle next spring. Having a companion on the trip made it much more enjoyable and the time passed much faster with company – although, I’m afraid I may have tested Grant’s patience with my long rambling stories.

The border crossing into the US went smooth and easy – Grant claimed it was the positive influence that his presence added – but after my previous experience a year ago I was grateful for an uneventful passage. We continued on I-15 south through most of Montana on that first day, enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip, before stopping for the first night in Dillon, a small town just over 900 Km south of Calgary which was our goal distance each day.

Since this has been a regular stopping spot for me for the six or eight round trips
I have made to Loreto over the past 5 years, I did not anticipate any need for reservations until we pulled up to my regular Motel and were told they were fully booked due to the local Rodeo happening that weekend. After trying several other places in town, with the same results, we were heading back to the highway and looking at another 40 miles or so to the next town when we stopped at the last option – the Creston Motel, an older “auto-court” style operation (think Bates Motel from Psycho with a fresh coat of paint). There, we were pleasantly surprised (and a little worried) to find that they DID have rooms available – I later concluded that their location in the center of town, far from the highway, was the reason for their vacancies, and not any more ominous issues. In fact, the rooms were newly, if less than professionally, renovated, and after my initial concerns I came to appreciate their individuality after the sterile “cookie-cutter” accommodations that have become the norm along most major highways. An added feature was that this Motel was a short walk from my favourite restaurant in Dillon (confession, the only restaurant there I have eaten at) Sparky’s Garage Diner where we had excellent plates of ribs and pulled pork with the sweetest corn bread I have ever tasted.

The next day took us through Idaho, past the Great Salt Lake and into Utah where we stopped just north of the Nevada border in St. George a thriving retirement based community with emerald green golf courses in the middle of red sand desert surrounded by pristine residential developments and big box malls, many of which have sprouted during the five years I have been travelling this route. I’ll blame road construction (again!) for missing my normal exit for my regular Motel stop here, which caused Grant, who was driving at the time, to have to double back and re-
approach from the south. This resulted in our staying at a beautiful new Fairfield by Marriot high-rise Hotel with a Players Sports Bar and Grill next door – perfect for the steaks we had promised ourselves for that evening’s dinner. Our last night in the States was spent in brand name luxury surrounded by all the sparkling new amenities that the pre-boomer retirees could want for, with a year-round summer climate.

I had warned Grant that day three would be our longest, leaving St. George by 8:30
we were soon passing through one of the scenic highlights of the trip; the Virgin River Gorge, where the 4 lane divided highway curves it’s way through spectacular rock walled gorges for several miles of what must be the most expensive stretch of
highway on the entire trip. About an hour later, after covering miles of non-descript desert, we approached one of the man-made wonders of this part of the world – Las Vegas. Passing through this metropolis of money, surrounded by iconic architecture, 24 hour sex shops, and shooting ranges, creates a sensory overload after the previous few days of travelling in some of the most barren landscape in the west.

Leaving Las Vegas – no pun intended – we began the long climb through the pass to
Baker CA, where we stopped at The Mad Greek, where we had great Calamari and Greek salads before we carried on for the decent into the great State of California – again, no pun. Before reaching San Bernardino we entered the extended megalopolis that continues from central California all the way south to the Mexican border. Because Grant needed a FMM Tourist Visa we chose the Declaration and Documentation lane at the Tijuana crossing, parking in the Customs lot just across the border line.

After getting the visa at the Immigration Office, paying for it at the nearby Bank window, and returning to Immigration with the receipt and receiving numerous rubber stamps in the process we were done. This was also the first time I had entered Mexico with my new FM3 ID card, replacing the 4 year old, somewhat worse for wear, visa booklet I had previously carried. So it was with interest I saw the Immigration Officer give my laminated card a quick glance, comparing it to my Passport, and then returning it to me with a smile – no rubber stamps, and with no computer scan or record of my arrival – Quien sabe!

We returned to the car in the parking lot that was crowded with more than a dozen vehicles, many of them small trucks with assorted cargo, that were being attended to by half a dozen Customs Agents, inspecting their loads and completing forms on clipboards. I drove through this scene of organized confusion slowly and carefully, avoiding eye contact with anyone in uniform, until I reached the exit with the ubiquitous red/green light that determines who gets a more thorough inspection. Seeing that nobody was paying any attention to these two Gringos in the SUV, everyone being occupied with the everyday business of crossing the busiest international border in the world, we emerged from the Customs area and carefully merged with the chaotic 6 lanes of “nothing to declare” traffic heading south.

A couple of quick turns later (more detailed driving instructions are in my earlier
postings) we were on the “Scenic Toll Road” heading to Ensenada and few grim miles of Tijuana tenements later, we drove along the shoreline past a collection of oceanfront resorts, some occupied and others abandoned before completion, telling a too familiar story of Real Estate development in Mexico. As our distance from Tijuana increased, the tension and apprehension I had felt crossing the border diminished, until we were approaching the port city of Ensenada about 100 km south.

Because of the time and fading light, we decided to forgo the temptations of a shopping stop at Costco and pressed on to our destination of San Quintin, another 250 km further south. This proved to be a wise decision, because half an hour south of Ensenada we were diverted onto the longest detour I have experienced in my five years of driving the Baja. Did I mention that it was now raining? So for 45 minutes, from dusk to dark, we crawled along a greasy, muddy ploughed track through the dirt, beside what will be a new stretch of divided asphalt highway – some day!

By the time we finished the detour it was darker than I would normally like to drive on Mexican highways, but with nothing much before San Quintin ahead, and the prospect of the detour behind us, we carried on in some of the heaviest traffic we would see during the entire trip. The advantage of driving after dark in Mexico with lots of other cars, is that you can be pretty sure that the road ahead is clear of cattle and other unexpected events. The disadvantages include all the normal hazards of narrow road, no shoulders, poor markings and unexpected “Topes” or speed bumps that are compounded by the darkness – plus the added adventure of the possibility of oncoming vehicles, without headlights!

This was not Grant’s baptism into Mexican highway driving – he has rented cars and
driven as far as Cabo, 6 hours south of Loreto. But he confessed later, over several much needed pre-dinner beers, that the NASCAR element of passing tractor trailer units in the dark, on a rainy night, given all the previously mentioned factors, was a new experience, and one that he was not anxious to repeat. Needless to say, we arrived safely, if somewhat rattled, at The Villa San Quintin by 9:00 pm that night, over 12 hours since we left St. George, travelling over 1,000 km – and much further culturally, and we were both euphoric and finally being in Mexico after three straight days of driving.

The final day took us into the central peninsula, through the granite field around
Catavina and then back out to the Pacific coast to Guerro Negro, where we stopped for a very civilized lunch at Mallarimo, a landmark restaurant/motel I have stopped at often before. From there we crossed the peninsula, finally descending La Cuestra del Infierno (Hill from Hell) into Santa Rosalia on the eastern coast and the beautiful Sea of Cortez. Thus began our final leg, south to Mulege, on past Bahia Conception with it’s fantastic turquoise blue water and many white sand beaches and finally across the long plateau that ends as we drop down into the Loreto area, guarded on the west by the Sierra Gigante mountains and fronting on the Sea of Cortez. As the sun set on our final day of travel it highlighted the offshore islands of Coronado and Carmen and we both knew we were Home!

To travel most of the length of North America in four days, pass through some of the most beautiful, and at times, most desolate scenery, skirt huge metropolitan areas, and bypass dusty Mexican hamlets that have been unchanged in 30+ years, to arrive in gratefully familiar surroundings and feel a true sense of belonging, of being Home – THAT is what Living Loreto is really about! Bienvenidos and Welcome back!