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”!