Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Wishes - Ho Ho Hola!

This Holiday Season finds me in a more traditional Christmas setting than my home in Loreto – I am visiting family back in Canada with all the trimmings; snow, cold weather, shopping malls aglow with decorations and shoulder to shoulder with shoppers carrying armloads of presents for the “Big Day”.

I left Loreto Bay at 7:30 in the morning, on an untypical overcast day and drove the 5 ½ hours south through La Paz to San Jose del Cabo by way of the east coast Mexico #1 highway, arriving at the International Airport at 1:00 pm.  The parking lot at Terminal 2 is being redesigned, apparently to better accommodate the numbers of busses and tourist vans that all but block the access road at the entrance to the building.  But after circling the lot I found that during this construction the temporary entrance is now through the exit gate, and I was eventually able to park where I had planned.

The check-in for my direct flight back to Calgary went smoothly, including the now routine trip back outside the Terminal and around the building to an inconspicuous rear door where my passport was checked and I was able to re-enter the building into the secure customs area where my FM2 visa was checked and my exit document stamped by an Immigration Officer.  This procedure is not required for the majority of departing passengers who entered on a FMM or Tourist visa, but since I have a resident visa and my trip originated in Mexico, I have become familiar with this somewhat round-about process.

With my documents now stamped I returned to the check-in podium and exchanged half of the form for my boarding pass, the other half I will hold until I arrive on the return trip.  Then I made my way upstairs, through security and into the food and shopping court that surrounds the departure lounge.  After a quick lunch my flight boarded about a half hour late and finally we were off by about 3:30 in the afternoon.

Not surprisingly, considering the windy weather we have been experiencing in the Baja recently, we had a considerable tail wind for the first half of the flight, and made up the half hour delay by the time we arrived at the Calgary Airport about 7:30 that evening – twelve hours after I left Loreto Bay.  A quick pass through Immigration and Customs, and with my bag one of the first off the carousel, I was outside waiting for my ride by 8:00 pm.  In minus 15 degree Celsius, or about 5 degrees Fahrenheit weather with a stiff wind – Welcome Back to Canada!     

Weather aside, it is a fitting time of year to spend time with family and friends and share the traditions of the season, and it helps to do so in the knowledge that I will be back in the gentle climate of my Baja home in a couple of weeks.

Since this is called “Living Loreto” I will not resume my postings until the New Year when I plan to relate my return trip, which will include travelling the last leg from the San Jose Airport back to Loreto by a small regional air service that recently began service from the International Airport.

So as my last posting before the New Year I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, and all my readers, for your continued and growing support, as evidenced by the number of hits I receive on this site.  I confess to having become somewhat obsessed by tracking these numbers from week to week (you too can follow the total number of visitors on the counter that appears at the very bottom of the screen when you page down through the recent posts). 

I am humbled that these hits have increased by about 50% in the past year and now average 100 per day, with over 65,000 visits since I started writing this Blog a little over three years ago.  You, the Readers, have given me this opportunity to record and share with others the experiences and people that have made this such a memorable time for me.  And so, at this time of the year for reflection and giving thanks – let me thank you for your interest and support - and I look forward to continuing to share with you “Living Loreto”!

Season’s Greetings and my Best Wishes for the New Year!  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meeting El Presidenté – Mayor Avilés

This week marked another first in my experiences here in Loreto.  In the past I have made several brief references to local and regional politics (“Sports, Politics and Paving”, Feb. 2011) but, generally speaking, I have avoided commenting on that aspect of life here, for two main reasons; firstly, I do not feel qualified to express opinions, due in part to the second reason, as a guest in this country I have no say in the electoral process - which makes the event I am writing about this week all the more noteworthy.

The Mayor, Jorge Avilés (or El Presidenté) of Loreto, who was elected earlier this year, met with members of the expatriate community of Loreto for an informal talk followed by a question and answer session – something that has never happened before in the 6 years I have been here – and as far as I can tell, is unprecedented in Loreto!  Word of this event was circulated on Lynn Hamman’s bulletin board (which I described earlier “Lynn Hamman – In the Know in Loreto”, Oct. 2011):

 Expatriates, come meet informally with the Mayor of Loreto!

You are Cordially Invited to a Special Reception and Exchange for All Members of the Expatriate Community in Loreto, with Loreto's Mayor, Jorge Avilés, December 7, 2011, 5:00 P.M., at the Casa Blanca, across the street from La Palapa Restaurant. There will be complimentary beer, soft drinks, and appetizers. Loreto's Mayor will give a brief talk, and then meet informally with all, and field questions, in an effort to reach out and strengthen the vital link between Loreto's Municipal Leadership and our expat community.

And so, not knowing quite what to expect, I made plans to attend the reception with some other Loreto Bay Homeowners. 

The event was being hosted by Tom Woodard, a local entrepreneur with real estate investments in and around Loreto, at one of his properties in town with a large open second floor space that was ideally suited for such a meeting.  We arrived just before 5:00 and there were a couple of dozen people already there, enjoying a snack and drink and visiting among themselves. 

It is worth noting that the community where I live, in Loreto Bay, is quite separate, (both physically, 15 km south of the town, and socially) from the ex-pat community that is mainly centered in town, some of the members of which have made Loreto their home for over 20 years.  Having said that, there are steadily more connections being forged between these communities on many individual levels, as people meet and share interests together, as well as on larger scales, like the recent Paella Competition and Gourmet Luncheon (“Paella and Homecoming” Nov. 2011), shared events that bring people from both communities together.

From that perspective, the majority of people arriving at this reception were “Townies”, people who live in and around Loreto, with possibly 10 – 15% of the well over 100 people who eventually assembled, coming from Loreto Bay.  Most of those had arrived by the time that the Mayor, accompanied by more than half a dozen others, made his entrance.  He was greeted warmly by Tom, the Host of the event, who is completely fluent in Spanish, and then quickly the socializing of those in attendance was interrupted with a request for people to take a seat so that the evening could begin.

Mayor Avilés began by saying that the purpose of the meeting was not political or to discuss “contentious” issues, rather, his core message to us was one of inclusion.  He made it clear that his position as Mayor, and that of his administration, was that we, the ex-pat community, were considered as equals with all the other residents of Loreto.  Although we had no voice in the electoral process, his undertaking to us was that he wanted to “reach out” to us and assure us that we were recognized by the local government – not just in word, but in deed.

 Wow!  While I had expected that this would be some sort of a public relations exercise, Mayor Avilés had, in these opening remarks, made the most affirmative statement I had heard from any official during my time here in Loreto!  I did my best to make some notes of his comments as they progressed, however the communications were complicated by the translation that was handled by a couple of the staff and advisors that had accompanied him to this meeting. 

On that point, I thought his comments were also interesting.  The officials that accompanied him, whose names I unfortunately was not able to record, included the Director of Municipal Development, the Municipal Union Representative, the Tourism Director, the Mayor’s General Secretary, several Councilmen and the Head of the Water Department.  And while they did not take an active role in the presentation, I came to the conclusion that the significance of their presence was twofold; to underline to us the importance in which this meeting was held by the Mayor (that he wanted this group of his senior administration to be in attendance) and further, I think that it was a clear signal to THEM of the level of importance he gave this meeting with US. 

Some of the highlights of what Sr. Avilés said included that his government would be different from the past administration (which had a rather notorious reputation, which I will not dwell on) and indeed, a large part of his focus during the first six months since the election had been devoted to recovering from the bad situations that he had inherited from his predecessor. He also stressed that we, as ex-pats, should consider ourselves equal to locals as far as his administration was concerned, and to that end he was appointing a bilingual representative specifically to address concerns within our community.

He also acknowledged several issues of importance including increases in property taxes, and new appraisals for tax purposes as well as federal charges for boat launches at the marina and increases in water charges.  In his comments he also recognized the substantial contributions that have been made by the ex-pat community toward supporting many charitable causes within the municipality, particularly those benefitting children.

He concluded with remarks that while this was the first such outreach to us, it would be one of many he would be making during his four year term.  One comment that received an enthusiastic (and good natured) response was that he understood, and he had made clear to his staff, the need to respond in a timely and responsible manner to our concerns – to show up, to be realistic in what they promised to do, and to DO IT!

During the Q & A session that followed his presentation, a number of specific issues were raised including a question of particular interest to us in Nopolo and Loreto Bay, concerning the stretch of highway between the town and our development to the south.  The issue of restoring power to the lighting that covers most of that portion of the highway (and has not been working for more than a year) was addressed and he made the undertaking that he was already discussing the situation with Fonatur (the Federal agency whose jurisdiction it was under) and furthermore he stated that his long term goal was the eventual upgrading of this stretch to a four lane road.  (Be still, my pounding heart!) 

My description of this meeting is not intended to be a comprehensive report of all of the issues that came up, but more a reflection of the overall tone and context of a unique, and perhaps in hindsight, historic, outreach by the highest elected local official in this municipality to a small, but representative group that have been previously excluded from any such dialogue.  As to the future, at the end of the meeting, one of the commitments that he made was that there would be more such meetings to come, as well, there would be a flow of information to the English speaking community from the Mayor’s Office, by way of Lynn Hamman’s bulletin board, that I referred to earlier in this piece.

This is yet another reason why I suggest that it is important for any Loreto Bay residents to join her Yahoo group (a link for which is in the posting I mentioned before) so that they can be informed as this type of information becomes available in the future.  It is my hope that when the next opportunity arrives for another meeting with Mayor Avilés and members of the local government, there will be an even greater number of residents participating – and particularly, a larger representation from the Loreto Bay community.

When we have been welcomed, and made to feel a valued part of the local community – for the first time – that brings a new meaning and perspective to Living Loreto!             

Sunday, December 4, 2011

To the Wine Cellar – Salud!

In my postings this Fall I have made several mentions about the new commercial spaces that have opened recently along the Paseo.  One of the first to open, in an anchor location near the south end of the road, at the round-about across from the Inn at Loreto Bay is The Wine Cellar, owned and operated by Will and Cynthia, who are also homeowners here.

For many of us, when we purchased our Loreto Bay home, the fantasy of opening a small business here was part of the dream we may have entertained, more or less seriously, at some point in the process.  I think it would also be fair to say that these sorts of entrepreneurial ideas tended to be more common early on in that process and, and as we came to better understand the complexities and realities of life (particularly business life) here in the Baja, the enthusiasm may have faded for some since then.

But, that has not been the path that Will and Cynthia followed to becoming proprietors of a tasteful and spacious wine and spirits bar in a growing ex-pat community deep in the southern Baja Peninsula.  Having purchased their home here four or five years ago, they both continued to pursue their careers in Los Angeles, where they lived, until this past summer when a change of circumstances in Cynthia’s job presented the possibility of an earlier than expected retirement. 

This led to a conversation in mid-July, where the idea that is now the Wine Cellar had its beginning – that of combining their potential new found freedom with their shared passion for wine-tasting, into a retirement business here in Loreto Bay.  A few short weeks later, in mid-August, the decision was made and Will enthusiastically joined Cynthia’s newly retired status and quickly their plans came together.

These events coincided with a focused effort this summer to rent most of the previously unoccupied commercial spaces along the Paseo that runs through Loreto Bay.  So Will and Cynthia were able to secure this prime location and satisfy a high priority service to the community, that of a Bar to provide a meeting place and social center within our development for the residents and also potentially for patrons from the surrounding Nopolo community and even the town of Loreto itself.

At the beginning of this September Will and Cynthia arrived back in Loreto Bay, this time to stay, and began the work of overseeing the renovations of the approximately 1500 sq. ft. space into the bright and airy environment that is now home to the Wine Cellar.  Approvals were secured to open up the outside wall with two French doors adding light and spaciousness to the previously dark room.  The wall surrounding the front garden space at the entrance was also lowered to a table top height creating an attractive outdoor patio area which overlooks where the main south access road joins the Paseo and provides an ideal location for their guests to observe the comings and goings to and from the development.

Inside there were even more tenant improvements made.  A large central pillar supporting the upper residential floors was incorporated into the corner of the “L-shaped” bar itself, and a small efficient kitchenette was tucked behind the back wall of the bar service area, where a selection of Tapas snacks can be prepared.  Finally two new washrooms were added and the transformation into a bright, inviting and functional space was almost complete.

Comfortable, residential style furnishings were sourced from Gustavo, a familiar vendor here in Loreto Bay, who has opened one of the new furniture stores just down the street, and the walls have been decorated with a number of pieces of original local artwork which will be completed with a commissioned centerpiece work that will be hung shortly.  Several moderately sized TV panels are positioned for viewing from all parts of the room but the Wine Cellar would not be mistaken for a Sports Bar, although often games are discretely playing in the background.

The back section of the space has been shelved to stock a variety of wine themed accessories which should be much sought after for gift giving during the approaching Holiday Season.  Two large wine coolers stand against the back wall, the one for reds kept about 5 degrees above the other storing whites, confirming my own taste for a slightly chilled red (while I don’t know where the standard for “room temperature” red wine originated, I am quite sure that it was not from the climate of the southern Baja!).

Meanwhile a local paralegal and business consultant put in place all the necessary paperwork and approvals to meet the requirements for operating the business here and two staff members were recruited; Urbano as waiter and bar tender, a familiar face who has worked at the INN and elsewhere providing friendly and professional service, and Margarita who prepares the tasty Tapas snacks for the hungry customers.

Will and Cynthia have spent many holidays, going back to University days, travelling the world tasting wines in places as far removed as South Africa, New Zealand and Eastern Europe, and in between these trips they also became somewhat connoisseurs of a social life that included the ambiance of their favourite bars.  In spite of these interests, as I said, the thought of opening their own place, incorporating ideas from their travels and experiences was a new one, when it occurred to them this past summer.

After arriving back in Loreto in early September the hard work of turning that idea into a reality began – and, remarkably, to many who are experienced with the pace of work here, in about a month and a half the Wine Cellar was substantially completed and ready to be tasted by the first Homeowners as they arrived for the season.  Opening at 4:00 pm weekdays and 2:00 on weekends, the Cellar will usually stay open until 10:00 most evenings, but Will and Cynthia are happy to stay open later, if the party is still going on!

In addition to 15 wines available by the glass, they offer a full cocktail bar service with a tasty selection of tapas including a cheese plate, guacamole and spiced olives to compliment the drinks.  But as well as the bar this is also a retail wine boutique with an impressive selection to choose from by the bottle – which is a welcome option for any Homeowner looking for a nice bottle to take to a dinner party or even something special for a restaurant meal, where the local selection  may be limited.  In addition, we now have access to the Cellar’s cellar if we run short of libations during the next dinner party – they will even deliver – how civilized is that!

Already a popular place in the late afternoons, where people can meet and mingle for drinks and conversation, it is also conveniently located at the south entrance to Loreto Bay and makes an ideal place for a nightcap when people return home from evening dinner in town.  Particularly useful for those who have been wisely cautious to consume moderately at dinner, before making the drive at night back to Loreto Bay.  So, when they have made it back safe and sound from their short drive on the highway, there is now the opportunity perhaps for one “off the road” at the end of the evening!

During the course of this season’s Blog postings I look forward to bringing you other stories about some of the new businesses that are adding so much to our community, and so I thought that I would begin with a “toast” to what I am sure will soon become a fixture here in Loreto Bay, The Wine Cellar.  This is a comfortable, convenient and laid back meeting place that fits very well with the developing ambiance that is Loreto Bay, and for many will become another favourite part of “Living Loreto”.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

San Javier - Revisited

One of the best experiences of living in a beautiful place like Loreto is sharing it with visitors.  I had that pleasure this week when Percy and Alejandra, along with their friend Yves, drove down from Orange County in California to spend a few days with me in my home, Casablanca.  You may remember from my first Blog of this season (“The Long and Winding Road” Oct. ‘11) that I had stayed with Percy in Orange County on my way south this Fall, and at that time we made plans for this return visit – their first experience driving in the Baja.

While they had not made the drive before, they are not new to Mexico.  First of all, the three of them are all fluent in Spanish and Percy’s does business in Mexico so he travels regularly to several large centers.  Alejandra recently moved to the US, having lived all of her preceding life in Mexico, but she had only visited Cabo in the Baja before, and Yves had visited many places in Mexico but he too was not familiar with the peninsula.

Their route was the familiar one from southern California, crossing at Tijuana spending the night in San Quintin and carrying on to Loreto the next day.  But, as I have learned from past experience, every trip down the Baja is an adventure and theirs began on the second day when they reached El Rosario and found traffic halted through town for 2 ½ hours, due to a Revolution Day parade.  However, because they were fluent in Spanish, they were able to find out from a local that there was a back road that took them to a ford over the river, downstream from the big bridge at the south end of town.  Following this road, and managing to cross the river in their four-wheel drive SUV, they were eventually able to re-join the main highway and avoid the holdup that would have probably delayed them from arriving in Loreto until the following day.   

But all’s well that ends in Loreto (I think I’ve just made up a new saying!) and they arrived without much in the way of further incidents.  In spite of having spent the last two days driving, they were game for another outing their first day here, when I suggested making the 32 km drive to San Javier.  For those unfamiliar with this area (and likewise unfamiliar with my previous posts on the subject: “Semana Sante, San Javier & Olive Oil” April ‘11, and “Road to San Javier” March ’09) San Javier is the site of the second Mission Church to be built in the Baja by the Jesuits. A simple adobe building was originally built in 1699, just a few years after the first Mission was constructed in Loreto, with the magnificent stone structure that is now the center of San Javier being completed in the mid-1700’s.

As I know from past experience, going to San Javier is as much about the journey as the destination.  The 32 km road that starts from the main highway just south of the town of Loreto travels through typical scrub brush for about the first third of the way.  The road then climbs the east slopes of the Sierra de la Giganta mountains on a spectacular stretch that switchbacks around hairpin turns and opens breathtaking vistas back towards the Sea of Cortez.  Then it straightens out again for the last third, across high plateau ranchero lands before approaching the small hamlet of San Javier that has grown up around this majestic 250 year old mission building.

Five years ago when I made my first trips up this road it was all gravel (and worse) from the highway to the Mission with the road becoming narrower and rougher through the mountain stretch and beyond.  A year or two later paving the road was an election promise made by the successful candidate for Governor and work began at the highway end.  At the end of that 3 year electoral term about one quarter of the length of the road was paved, and so, in the ensuing election, continuing to pave the road was part of the new Governor’s campaign and work continued.  Earlier this spring on my last trip up the new road had reached about the halfway point, with the most challenging (and most expensive to construct) portion through the mountains, still to be done.

So on this most recent trip I was interested to see how far the paving had progressed and I was pleasantly surprised to see that now the new wide asphalt road (now with shoulders – a rarity in the Baja) has reached the 21 km mark, which includes most of the difficult route through the mountains.  Several kilometres past the end of pavement there are several more kilometres of wide graded roadbed, apparently ready for the next section of paving, before the road narrows again to the original rough dusty track through several rancheros.

In my description of this roadwork , I have failed to mention the dramatic shifts in scenery that is the real attraction for anyone making this trip.  The dry desert scrub brush that makes up most of the journey is broken unexpectedly by several small oases that can be spotted from a distance by the tall succulent palm trees that thrive wherever there is a reliable supply of water.  Yes there is water here in the desert, quite a bit, from the appearances of these palm groves, but it mostly travels underground until it is lifted to the surface by the subterranean geology and these areas become the occasional patches of lush vegetation that can be seen from the road.

A significant benefit of the progress this paving is that it has reduced the travel time to San Javier, we arrived in less than an hour, where it used to take up to a half hour longer on the old road.  When we did arrive, my first impressions were that the “town” was looking better than it has on previous visits.  The buildings appeared to be better maintained and, although several of the new businesses I had seen the last time were not open the day we were there, there was still more activity and services than was the case a couple of years ago.

But of course the focal point of any visit is the Mission itself, and it never has failed to impress me what a massive undertaking this huge edifice must have been when it was built with the most primitive of tools and technology over 200 years ago!  It was also my impression that, along with the surrounding town, the building itself and its grounds are being better maintained, as was the beautiful and inspiring chapel inside.  Although I have visited the Mission frequently, I never tire of photographing this building inside and out, trying to capture the impressive scale of the structure and the rugged details of the centuries old stonework.

Needless to say, my visitors were also mightily impressed by the beautiful building, rising from the harsh desert plateau where it is located, surrounded by the craggy peaks of the self same rock that these walls were hewn from so long ago.  The proximity of the materials of construction, within sight of the structure itself, gives the strong impression that this building somehow arose by natural means from the very ground where it now sits, rather than being built by man’s hand.

But I digress!  No visit to San Javier is complete without continuing on by foot behind the Mission building, past an ancient cistern holding irrigation water, and through a cultivated field (now lying fallow, but on prior visits growing a bumper onion crop) to a monument of another kind, the 300 year old olive tree.  Now a massive, twisted and contorted trunk, supporting a huge canopy of delicate silvery leaves, this tree was part of the olive grove that was planted by the early Jesuits, whose goal it was to establish a self-sufficient agricultural settlement to support the Mission building that would rise nearby, decades later.

The evidence of the success of what must have been a daunting undertaking over three centuries ago, is all around us, albeit primitive and marginal by North American standards, crops continue to be raised and harvested, irrigated by much of the original infrastructure laid down by those early missionaries.  As I mentioned in the April posting referenced earlier, artisanal olive oil production is currently being revived here from the fruits of over 300 trees that trace their genealogy back to this ancient specimen – true living history!

And so ended my most recent pilgrimage to San Javier, but I will return, time and time again, as I feel drawn to this place that represents so many unique aspects of life in this part of the Baja.  Very likely, my future visits will include guests or visitors, because it is usually on those occasions, with company, that we who have the privilege of living in this beautiful place, find the time and inspiration to see again the sights, and share the experiences with others.  That which originally caused us to fall in love with this place – through the eyes of others, we can see again, as for the first time, why we are “Living Loreto”.         

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paella & Homecoming - Anniversaries to Remember

In a relatively new community like Loreto Bay there are not yet many occasions for anniversaries, but one of those “new” traditions took place last weekend with the fourth annual Paella Competition and Luncheon.  Regular readers of these pages will know that I have been writing about these events since the first one was held in 2008, and you can find write-ups on the earlier ones among the November postings in the archive on the panel to the right.

This competition has become one of my favourite annual events – and each year it has gotten bigger and better.  This year there were almost 200 tickets sold and 8 teams with 23 competitors each preparing their own unique versions of delicious rice, seafood and other ingredients.  Some of the teams came from as far away as Ensenada, some were sponsored and others were made up of individuals who want to share their love of preparing great food.

For the second year the event was held at the Inn at Loreto Bay, which provided their beautiful courtyard as a perfect location to for the competition.  After several days of unseasonable windy weather, the morning of the competition was back to the usual perfect Loreto weather with a gentle breeze and brilliant sunny skies. 

I had been asked to provide music again for the event with my portable PA system, and so I arrived at the Inn about 8:30 in the morning to set up the equipment.  At that hour, about half of the teams had already arrived and some were already hard at work setting up their cooking stations and preparing ingredients.  But much work had been done already by volunteers to get the site ready for the luncheon that would follow the judging.  Shade tents sheltered most of the tables that had been set up for the event and the courtyard was surrounded by the cooking stations for each of the participating teams.  Each team added decorative touches to their tables with displays of fresh ingredients, flowers and other accents to create their own ambiance.

As more teams arrived and began the cooking process, wonderful aromas began to drift between the different stations.  A steady stream of diners began to gather and enjoy complimentary appetizers and a selection of cold drinks as they circulated around the perimeter, observing and visiting with the participants, watching their preparations and “ooohing and aaahing” over the impressive quantities of seafood and other ingredients that were assembled to garnish the pans of fragrantly cooking rice.

The major sponsor of this Paella competition from its first year has been Roganto Wines, an exclusive, small, “boutique” winery located near Ensenada in Baja Norte.  This year they brought the biggest Paella pan I have ever seen – it was easily over 4 feet across and produced a masterpiece that served 120 people!  In addition they were providing tastings of several selections of their wines as well as offering wines by the glass and sangria to enjoy with the meal.  They also sold their wines by the bottle or the case, and all the proceeds made up a substantial portion of the total funds raised from the event.  In what has become another tradition, following the Luncheon they even set up a station providing free Pina Coladas until their ample stock of the ingredients ran out!

On a poignant note, this event was held on the 11th – Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in America and I was moved by the fact that someone had had the foresight to bring down a quantity of the Canadian Legion Poppies which were handed out to most of those in attendance – a fitting memorial for all of us living here who have so much to be thankful for.  All in all, it was a wonderful time, and none of this memorable day would have happened without the long hours of planning and organization that Shelia, assisted by her husband Manfred, have dedicated to bringing the people and resources together, and along with the involvement of over two dozen volunteers, to make this event the continuing success it has become. 

Each year, since the beginnings four years ago in the backyard of their home here in Nopolo, Shelia and Manfred have been the driving force behind this competition and luncheon - one of this community’s most successful social and fundraising events.  In addition to creating a wonderful celebration of food and drink and an opportunity to bring together our community in a beautiful environment at the beginning of another season, much good will also be done with the net proceeds of $4500.00 which will be divided equally between the Internado (residential) School, Caritas (providing basic support to those in greatest need), and the Loreto Optimists Children’s Fund.   

The other big event this week marked another anniversary, the “Homecoming Street Party”, sponsored  by the HOA and organized by Associa our administrator, to mark eight years since the first sales event that launched the Villages of Loreto Bay in November of 2003.  As part of the activities, during the day on Friday the commercial tenants along the Paseo celebrated the recent openings of their businesses by holding a “Sidewalk Sale” to introduce their goods and services to all the Homeowners who are currently here.

With displays set up on the sidewalks in front of each location, many of the businesses had special offers and or samples, making it a great opportunity for residents to get to know the businesses and what they have to offer.  The range of businesses that have opened on the Paseo (the main road that runs through Loreto Bay) now includes two furniture and home accessory stores, several property management services, a spa offering aesthetics and massage, a fresh food market, several construction contractors, a wine bar and boutique and the convenience store that has been in operation for the past several years.  A couple of more businesses are due to open before the New Year and when it is all up and running the community of Loreto Bay will enjoy a level self-sufficiency we could only dream about several years ago!  

After the businesses had closed for the day, the HOA hosted the Homecoming Party at the Bajaja Bar and Grill, centrally located midway between the Founders and Agua Viva neighbourhoods.  Homeowners had RSVP’d to attend and each home received a number of free drink tickets and the restaurant served several delicious “finger food” appetizers throughout the evening, all courtesy of our Association. 

As a measure of the numbers of Owners who are here this early in the season, there were 250 in attendance, 90% of whom were Homeowners, the remainder their Guests, who were able to purchase tickets at the door.  To top off the evening, Loreto Bay’s favourites, Los Beach Dogs performed two sets to “thunderous” appreciation and what available space there was on the pool patio was jammed with enthusiastic dancers. 

As I said, in a community as new as Loreto Bay is, there have not yet been many occasions for anniversaries – but this week was something special with both the fourth Paella competition and Luncheon and the eighth year since the first homes were sold here from chalk lines on the sand – just two more reasons we have to be thankful for “Living Loreto”.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home & Garden Tour - Beautiful Loreto Bay!

Last weekend I wrote about the different activities that took place during the Re-Discovery weekend, and I had promised to write more about the Home and Garden Tour that took place on the Sunday afternoon.

The Tour was sponsored by Baja Screens , a Homeowner owned business that supplies and installs the popular Phantom Screens in a growing number of Loreto Bay homes.  Shortly after he purchased his home in Loreto Bay, Bert Huisman, who operates the business with his partner Laurie, realized that the Phantom Screens he had in his home in Calgary would be an ideal addition to his Baja casa – allowing windows and doors to be left open while stopping insects and cutting down on sun exposure.  Being entrepreneurial by nature, this led to him securing the Baja Sur territory for the product, which marked the beginning of his new side business in Loreto. 

The tour began at Bert and Laurie’s Casa Chica #474, located near the Community Pool.  There have been a number of upgrades done to this pretty home, with Canterra stone surrounds added to the doors and windows and of course – every opening in this two bedroom corner unit has been fitted with Phantom Screens.  The main feature of these screens is that they are retractable on a spring loaded roller mechanism that discretely stores the screen when it is not required.  Most Loreto Bay homes have more doors than a typical enclosed home design because they are usually built around interior courtyard space.  This makes for an ideal application for the retractable French Door screens that have two panels that can be opened separately and are held closed together by magnetic catches.  Although most insects here are seasonal, and not an ongoing problem, In the past month or so I have had several visits into my living room by birds that can sometimes take some coaxing to find their way out again, so these screens can certainly be useful for a number of reasons.

In addition to the screens and other nice upgrades, the feature that stood out for me most in this home was the built-in furniture they had made for their viewing tower.  Wooden benches with corner storage units have been built into three sides of the tower space accented with lots of multi-coloured cushions   creating an inviting seating arrangement that can be converted to day beds perfect for afternoon siestas.  The generous boxed tables in the corners provide ample storage for these cushions when they are not in use.

After viewing this first home we were given a list of the other homes on the tour with a map showing their locations and were encouraged to visit them in any order so that all the people doing the tour did not converge on the same houses at the same time.  My next stop was #498, a unique Nueva Chica plan that had been constructed on a larger than normal lot.  The Nueva Chica was a later variation on the popular Chica plan that makes up more than half of the Founders Neighbourhood.  With the home positioned in the center of this larger lot, open garden/patio spaces were created both back and front with entrances off the main Paseo as well as from the Community Courtyard on the other side.  The Paseo side is mainly patio space with a large canterra tiled sitting area, ideal for dining al fresco, with a sheltered outdoor shower area accessible from the main floor bathroom – perfect for rinsing off and drying equipment after diving, one of the owners many outdoor interests.

The open space at the back of the home is divided into two areas, a beautifully protected sitting area off the main floor bedroom, surrounded by exotic specimen plantings and a generous entrance area off the Community Courtyard with a spacious Bodega, or storage room, big enough for 4 bikes to be hung on the wall and space left over for lots of other outdoor toys.  Storage ideas abound in this compact home, where every square foot counts, including a pantry area next to the kitchen where custom shelving makes the most of this valuable space.  I was also struck by the sense of spaciousness that is created when the furnishings are carefully scaled to the sizes of the rooms.

Nearby on the Paseo #467 is a Bohemia plan with a large side garden running the length of the home.  In a standard configuration, the main floor living area of the Bohemia opens onto a large interior courtyard with a staircase running up the opposite wall to the second floor.  However, with the additional large garden space in this home, the staircase is free-standing between the carefully landscaped courtyard garden and a dramatic water feature that extends along the far perimeter wall.  Built of natural stone and extending almost two stories high, is a wall topped with large potted cacti and succulents.  At eye level this wall is accented by several arches in the stone work and stone conduits that pour water into a reflecting pool running its full length.

The dramatic effect of the stone work and running water, accented with the lush desert foliage combines to create a sense timelessness – standing there, it is possible to imagine that these surroundings could have remained unchanged for a century or more, rather than the three or four years since the home was built.  Upstairs, the iconic Loreto Bay coupola (a domed ceiling over the kitchen that helps to vent warmer air from the main floor) has been surrounded by a low wall creating a raised garden space that has been planted with more indigenous desert plantings creating another lush green space separating the comfortable, pergola shaded patio space outside the second floor bedroom, from the Paseo below.

The next home I visited was #437, the only Custom Home on this year’s tour, located directly on the 10th fairway of the Golf Course and one of the more recently completed customs, constructed a couple of years ago in a remarkable 9 months!  Custom Home lots are mainly located on the perimeter of the Founders Neighbourhood along the Golf Course and Beachfront and are built on lots that typically are 3,000 to 5,000 sq. ft., two to three times the size of the largest Village Home lots.  By definition, these homes are individually designed to capitalize on their location and views.

From the outside, the home has a contemporary architectural style with a dramatic stone faced entrance way that opens onto a covered transition area leading to an open central courtyard.  Inside this entranceway the opposite walls have been finished with faux-antique panels of plaster with exposed brick and painted to create a strikingly convincing passage that could well be generations old – making a dramatic contrast to the contemporary feel of the exterior.  As you enter the courtyard you eye is drawn through the open entrance to the main living area and beyond to the lush green rolling fairway with the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range as a backdrop – breathtaking! 

The open plan living area is furnished with uniquely upholstered accent chairs and low sofas that provide ample seating to contemplate the stunning views across the lush fairway to the mountains beyond.  A spacious granite trimmed “J” shaped kitchen wraps around a large central island on the right of the living room, while to the left, is the entrance to the Master suite, incorporating custom furnishings and a lavishly accented ensuite.  The French doors of the bedroom open onto the beautifully landscaped garden oasis that finishes the back of the home with tranquil golf course and mountain views separating the home from the fairway beyond.  Although the floor plan of the home conforms to the square shaped lot, the interior of the main floor is built on diagonals with a large utility room in one rear corner of the main floor and a second bedroom off the courtyard, both separated from the home by internal garden spaces providing additional light and air to the interior spaces.

Upstairs most of the second floor is open terrace with a shade pergola overlooking the mountain view and a second floor “casita” style guest bedroom with ensuite. Central on the terrace is a modified coupola feature that acts as a skylight to the living room below with side windows that can be opened to catch cooling breezes.

Next I made my way to #142 located centrally on the beachside of the Founders Neighbourhood.  This home has recently undergone one of the most extensive renovations to a Village home so far, with the main focus of the development being the large wrap-around garden.  Capitalizing on the exceptional outdoor spaces of this home, several distinct feature areas were created. As you enter through the impressively detailed entrance gate, on your right there is a pergola shaded seating area at the far end of the front garden with a unique water feature along one wall and sunken stone hardscaping that defines the space.  On the left is a beautiful outdoor dining area with a fully equipped outdoor kitchen as well as a pass through window accessing the main kitchen.  In the corner is a built-in acorn shaped fireplace, perfect for extending a relaxed evening dining al fresco, even on the occasional cool nights.  Around the corner there is a beautiful canterra outdoor shower conveniently located beside a new second entrance gate, beyond which a storage bodega fills the far end of the side garden with plenty of room for all the toys that make for an active outdoor lifestyle.

The main courtyard of the home has been partially hardscaped accented with sculptured plantings and a smaller wall fountain replaces the original central one, creating valuable additional space in this hub of the home.  Inside the main kitchen/dining/living area the attention to detail is obvious in the tile accents, particularly in the completely renovated kitchen and the arch separating it from the rest of the room which has been opened up even further by changing one of the windows to a French Door opening onto the side garden.  The rest of the home features many built-in ideas and subtle alterations to the original Encantada plan that spotlight what can be achieved with a total renovation of a Village home.

My final stop on the tour was #44, located in the first cluster of homes, just a few doors away from my own “Casablanca”.  This was another Encantada plan which was among the first dozen or so homes completed in 2006.  The owners, both of whom live and work most of the time in Loreto Bay, have done a lot of work and upgrades to their home over the years, but have just completed their biggest project so far, which included converting the courtyard garden into a canterra tiled outdoor living space, greatly expanding the sense of spaciousness in the home.  Replacing the original central fountain, a unique wall feature has been added below the staircase to the second floor terrace.  A sheet of trickling water ripples down the mosaic tiled wall which is dramatically accented with a propane fuelled fire bar across the base of the wall which must create a magical effect at night. In a side garden directly off the dining room/kitchen area, previously wasted space has been converted to a conveniently accessible BBQ counter complimenting the existing wall fountain and sheltered patio area, ideal for informal meals.

Upstairs previous renovations have included a lavish outdoor spa/shower area and the upstairs bedroom does double duty as a bright and airy studio/office with a built-in Murphy bed for extra accommodations when needed.  This home also features one of the first post-construction viewing towers accessed by a small spiral staircase that leads to a spectacular view of the Sea of Cortez and the Sierra del la Giganta mountains – truly the best of both worlds.

And so concluded my first annual Home and Garden tour – certainly a highlight of the Re-Discovery weekend for me – and I expect also for most of the 60+ participants, whose purchase of tour passes will contribute over $300 to a deserving local charity.  Although much of my work day involves showing Loreto Bay homes listed for re-sale, this “busman’s holiday” was a real eye opener to me – seeing how personal style and creativity can be expressed so dramatically in this small sampling of the many beautiful homes that make up this special community.  What is exciting to realize is that this is just the beginning of the next phase of renovation and personalization of the homes in Loreto Bay that will enhance even more the experience of “Living Loreto”.