Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sandals, Bath Tubs & Bikes!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Auction Where Everybody Wins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Trip To San Juanico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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