Sunday, March 27, 2011

Woodstock with Golf Carts

This past Monday was the Summer Solstice and I heard about plans for an evening concert by the three guitarists whom I featured in a Blog titled “A Little Night Music” from January this year. The plan was to hold this event in one of the large community courtyards near the INN and so I contacted my friend Rich, who plays in the group, to offer my PA system for the evening.

After consulting with his fellow players the consensus was “louder is better” and so they accepted the offer, and I made plans with Rich to pick me and the equipment up in his Golf Cart in the afternoon before the show was to begin. As the date got closer there was an addition made to the program – a Homeowner was being visited by his two University aged sons who were gifted musicians and they would be sitting in with the trio.

As many of you are aware, last Sunday there was a “Super-bright” full moon which I witnessed at a neighbour’s home and took pictures. This special full moon the day before the Solstice seemed an auspicious beginning to what I am feeling is a new chapter in the continuing story of Loreto Bay. In my business I have seen some positive results from the current atmosphere here – more people, more visitors more sales and a growing positive energy in the community.

So it was in this context that I was anticipating this first “open air” public concert and wondered what the turnout would be like. To set the scene, the homes in the Founder’s Neighbourhood are located around over two dozen community courtyards which are landscaped areas that provide green space to offset the relatively high density of the homes themselves. The area that had been chosen for the concert is one of the largest such courtyards in the development with a central fountain and a shade pergola set in a desert garden at one end which is where the musicians would set up.

Rich’s golf cart was the ideal transport for my sound equipment because with it we could load things from my door at one end of the development and drive right into the courtyard at the far end, to unload. Since electric golf carts and bikes are the only vehicles that are permitted on the meandering pathways between the courtyards and normal vehicles are restricted to the Paseo, or main road running through the development, without the cart everything would have had to be carried at least 50 yards from the road.

When we arrived at the courtyard, Greg, a local electrical contractor was just finishing up rigging a power line from a consenting Homeowner’s outlet nearby and stringing a couple of lights in the pergola for later on in the evening. I got busy setting up the PA system while Rich headed off to pick up his “Axe” at his nearby home. While he was gone, George and Steve arrived with their instruments and began their set-up. When I had the PA working and some filler music playing I turned the system over to the musicians to hook up their own equipment and play with their levels. Soon the two visiting musicians arrived, and the brothers Chad and Casey began unpacking their fiddles and a mandolin to begin the ritual of tuning.

Chad & Casey
Although both of these “guest artists” were still taking University courses and had interests outside of music, they had been playing together since the ages of 4 and 6 and had just finished a “gig” on St. Patrick’s Day in Portland OR the night before flying to Loreto for a spring break. Fortunately for us, they had brought their instruments with them and as they warmed up it became apparent that we were in for a special treat this evening!

Meanwhile, the courtyard was filling with people as the appointed start time approached. Homeowners arrived in couples and small groups from all over the neighbourhood, some in their golf carts, many carrying folding chairs and some with small coolers or snacks. Soon the fountain was surrounded and the chairs reached across the width of the courtyard on each side and more people kept arriving until the crowd stretched well towards the back of the open space. At one point I did a quick head count and estimated that there were more than 150 people gathered for the concert and others continued to arrive after that!

This in itself is a fairly unprecedented event, the last time I had seen as many people together here this winter was at the inauguration of the newly paved road (see “Sports, Politics and Paving”, from February), but this crowd looked larger, reflecting the increased occupancy levels at this time of year. While most Homeowners have a circle of friends and neighbours in the immediate vicinity of their casa, and many know others elsewhere in the community, there are few occasions where we all get together at one place and time.

While I was aware that we are currently somewhere around 50% occupancy of the about 550 homes in the Loreto Bay development, I was surprised to see how many people there are actually here, when most of them are together in the same place! During the normal day to day rhythm of life here in the community, there are usually people coming and going up and down the Paseo, walking dogs, going to Evan’s store, to and from the community pool or strolling on the beach, but you really don’t get a sense of the actual numbers of people in residence at any given time.

However, an event like this brings everyone together – and I for one was impressed! But the best was yet to come. The trio started things off with several folk and blues standards, then before long they called on the visiting musicians to join them and the addition of the fiddle and mandolin rounded out the guitar music very well. After playing along as a group for the first set, Rich, George and Steve gave up their stage for a set by the duo and the audience was in for a special treat!

Getting things off to a rousing start was one of the best versions I have ever heard of “The Devil came down to Georgia” with killer fiddle solos by each brother, which they then followed with a classical Bach piece, showing their classical virtuosity and then they did a three piece set that may defy description! The first piece involved one brother holding his fiddle and fingering the neck while the other brother bowed the strings – an impressive feat of co-ordination!

The second tune was even more athletic – the brothers stood side by side and hooked one leg each together at the knees, they then interlocked their arms and proceeded to play a duet . . . while hopping in place on their free leg, in time with the music! (You had to be there!) But, as I said, this was a three piece set and they were saving the best for last. After carefully getting into position, side by side, they managed to intermingle arms and instruments so that they were each playing half of both instruments! While one held and fingered his fiddle, he was bowing the instrument being held and fingered by his brother – and vice versa! How many hours of practice that this feat of musicianship and co-ordination had required was beyond my imagination, but it would have “brought the house down” if we had been inside!

After this tour de force the three guitarists rejoined them on stage and for most of the rest of the evening we were entertained by the newly formed quintet playing a variety of pop/rock/blues standards well into the evening. While I have been fortunate enough to be present at a number of the Trio’s performances, it was obvious that they have really come together as a group, no doubt after many hours of playing together, and I look forward to enjoying more of their musicianship in the future.

When an impromptu gathering to celebrate the Solstice grows into the largest community gathering of the winter (so far) and we are treated to a free concert of professional grade musicians playing for the joy they get from their music and inspired by the atmosphere and surroundings – and while I know I have said it before – this was really what “Living Loreto” is all about!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Dinner is now being served!"

In the continuing evolution of Loreto Bay one aspect of the lifestyle that has been absent is the availability of places to eat within the community. During the past week this has changed.

I have written in these pages several times about Baja Onsite, the convenience store run by Evan and Julie
 over the last year and a half. When they opened their new larger location last Fall they had plans to offer Deli selections as well as the packaged and frozen foods they sell for home preparation. After a busy winter and managing several other business ventures, along with growing the inventory of their store, they launched the long awaited Deli side of their business in the last week.

Now you can order fresh sandwiches and salads made to order at the store and enjoy them on the patio outside or take them away – no need to interrupt that lazy morning around the community pool to go back to your Casa and make lunch! This adds another feature to the Baja Onsite patio, which has become an unofficial meeting place for many Homeowners this winter. There are often people relaxing at the tables and chairs in front of the store, enjoying a coffee in the morning sun or a cold drink in the afternoon shade, perhaps checking their email on the free WiFi, or just visiting with each other after picking up a few groceries, a bottle of wine for dinner or their mid-afternoon ice cream snack.

Anyone who has been in Loreto Bay this winter knows how convenient having access to this store has made living here in Loreto Bay – no longer is it necessary to drive the 15 km each way to town every time you run out of something, if Evan and Julie don’t have it you can probably get by without it! But it is not just the staples they stock, often they carry specialty items from the US that cannot be found in any store in town, as well as a small but carefully selected inventory of household goods and small appliances brought back from the big stores in Cabo and La Paz.

With the addition of their new take-out Deli foods, this hard-working couple have added one more convenience to our lives here in Loreto Bay and many of us appreciate the contribution they continue to made to the way we now are Living Loreto!

But wait – there’s more!

Throughout the reconstruction and development of the Golf Course one important aspect has been missing, the Clubhouse has only served as the start and stopping place of a round, with no services other than a place to pick up or drop off a cart or rent a set of clubs, oh yes, and the Banos, of course. That was the case, until this week, with the addition of a 19th Hole!

For many years, one of the most popular restaurants in town has been Mita Gourmet, run by Juan Carlos and his wife in a charming open air patio on the town square. This restaurant was in fact named for their daughter, Mita, who has grown into a beautiful young mother, married to Carlos and the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy.

Following several months of rumour and speculation (this is Loreto Bay after all) it was recently announced that Juan Carlos had succeeded in securing the food concession at the Clubhouse and was going to open a restaurant to be run by his daughter Mita and her husband Carlos.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and with a full bar service available, this new venture, appropriately called “The 19th Hole” fills a major gap in the social life surrounding the game of Golf. Now, the early risers, who want to get their game in during the relatively cool mornings, can start their day with a hearty breakfast of omelettes or other egg dishes or Mexican Desayuno specialties. Following the game, or before an afternoon round, there is a selection of sandwiches and salads as well as a hearty cheeseburger available for lunch and there is a full dinner menu available as well as some specials every evening, finally giving Loreto Bay an option for dining out, without facing the drive home again from town in the dark.

In addition to the full day menu, The 19th Hole is running a beverage cart on the Golf Course, stocked with ice cold beverages snacks and sandwiches, bringing welcome relief to the parched and hungry players mid-game. Definitely a civilized touch that has been sorely missed by all of us concerned about maintaining our “hydration” during the long stretches between holes on hot afternoons!

Mita explained that these menus are still a work in progress, as they gauge the tastes and preferences of the diners in Loreto Bay and in fact they had planned a “soft opening” to get their staff up and running before starting to promote the new restaurant. But, in a place like Loreto Bay good news travels fast, and they have been busier than they expected since their first days. They start serving Breakfast at 7:00 am, Lunch at noon and Dinner at 6:00 and the kitchen remains open until 9:00. She also talked about plans for live music and “theme nights” with special menu and entertainment.

I think it is worthwhile noting that this enterprise, under the watchful eye and long experience of Juan Carlos, is being run by another young and ambitious couple who are making their own opportunities for the future by meeting a much anticipated need in advance of the market size that would normally be required by such a venture.

I am also confident, based on the enthusiastic reception both these two new food services have received, that our community appreciates the opportunity to support the contributions being made by these entrepreneurs and the big step they represent in the further development of a more complete experience we can all now share “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chilling Calgary!

This week’s Blog is a departure from the normal “Living Loreto” format – because, this past week I have NOT been living Loreto, as regular Readers already know. This week I have been “Chilling Calgary” instead, visiting family and friends here while taking in a Real Estate Trade Show. The less said about the Trade Show the better, it was poorly promoted and the turnout was disappointing. But the rest of my short visit back to a northern City at the end of the winter season has been an interesting experience.

First of all for context, I grew up here and spent most of my adult life living in western Canada so the winter experience is hardly a new one, although, after spending most of the past five winters in Mexico I consider that climate to be the more ``natural`` one to me now. But I was well aware of what I was getting into when I arrived in Calgary last week, to be greeted by temperatures in the minus 27 degree Celsius range, almost 60 degrees Celsius colder than when I left the Airport in Cabo!

(A brief explanation here is probably appropriate – in Canada we use the Celsius temperature system rather than the Fahrenheit used in the US. The simplest explanation of the difference between them is that at freezing the temperature is zero degrees Celsius and 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so, -25 degrees C = -13 deg. F. When I left Cabo the temperature was +30 deg. C, or 85 deg. F and when I arrived in Calgary it was -30 C or -22 F – so it was 60 degrees colder in Celsius or 100 degrees colder in Fahrenheit! Confused? Well, then I guess I won`t get into explaining metres or litres!)

Anticipating the “deep freeze” on my arrival, I had packed a sweater and lined leather jacket in the outside pockets of my suitcase so I was able to add some layers while I was still in the baggage claim area of the Calgary Airport. Suitably garbed, I made my way out into the terminal where I received a warm welcome (is there any other kind, under these circumstances?) from my sister and brother-in-law and then we made our way out to their waiting car.

Driving through the early darkness of a major City in the grip of a cold snap is culturally (as well as climatologically) a shock, especially after driving in Mexico five hours earlier. The squeak of the tires on the snow in the parking lot, the clouds of condensed exhaust billowing out of the tailpipes of the cars, the ploughed walls of snow bordering the major roads – what used to be unremarkable and commonplace for most of my life, now seems bizarre and exotic, and even a bit frightening!

However, the human species adapts quickly! The next morning I was out in the car running several errands and, after taking it carefully for the first few blocks, old reflexes soon returned and I easily got back into a winter driving mode. Braking gently and early, not following too closely, watching for icy patches, yes, it all comes back so quickly.

The weather in Calgary can be very changeable at this time of year. I arrived in the midst of a “cold snap” and people were generally grumbling about the extreme temperatures, and who can blame them with lows in the high minus 20’s and “highs” in the minus mid-teens, what’s not to complain about! But over the course of the week I was there, after a few days the temperatures started to moderate and by the middle of last week they were back up to a “seasonable” plus 4 degrees – HEATWAVE!

What became apparent over this visit, and the rising and lowering temperatures, was how weary the people living in these winter climates become with the weather, from late October, now through early March - and the worst of the winter is not yet over. In fact, it is often March when they receive most of the snowfall in this area. But it’s not just the cold and the snow, but the accumulation of old snow and ice on the streets and parking lots, turning grey and unpleasant through the cycles of snow and thaw and more snow, stratified with layers of gravel laid down for traction and ploughed up into the walls that surround every cleared area.

But all of the culture shock is not limited to the weather. Living again in a “big City” one also gets exposed again to media, like weather reports – does it really matter if it is minus 15 or minus 17 degrees out today? Or sports – how did I manage to live for months in Mexico without knowing the final scores of a dozen or so Hockey games played most nights across North America? But one of the strangest was the traffic reports – every 10 minutes or so, morning and evening rush “hours” (that seem to extend further into the rest of the day) with a running list of collisions and stalled cars scattered across the four corners of the City and the chaos that results from the congestion that builds immediately behind the unlucky victims.

On a brighter side, a mid-winter visit back is an opportunity to pick up the unobtainable for myself and friends, who live a much simpler life without the 24/7/365 access to the cornucopia that is the shopping reality in most major centres in North America. While most of us in Mexico take some pride in this simpler way of life that comes with the limited selection of consumer goods available to us in our chosen home away – when the opportunity does arise the wish lists come out!

Having been on the receiving end a number of times myself, I know what a difference getting that cherished item can mean to someone months away from their own return to “Shopper’s Paradise”. On this trip, one couple wanted 3 seat cushions to complete their set of new outdoor furniture, these could not be ordered in Mexico but were readily available in several stores in Calgary. Another neighbour made an impassioned appeal for new bed sheets, to replace the set that had inexplicably become suddenly worn out (what happens in the Baja – stays in the Baja!). And finally, someone else wanted several bottles of non-prescription pain reliever, but of a particular formula that is the unique key to relieving their migraines – truly a mission of mercy!

My own requirements were modest – magazines! While there is an extensive lending library of hundreds of good books available at our well stocked Community Centre, current magazines (my favourite is Vanity Fair) are among the rarest of luxuries where I live. So I stocked up with great relish, bringing back a handful of fresh periodicals which I will jealously ration over the rest of the winter and hopefully manage to eke out until I return to the Big Magazine Racks later this year.

So these are my thoughts from Calgary last week, as I packed my bags and prepared for the early departure that will amazingly return me to sun and heat and palm trees in less than five hours from the dark and cold and snow - that really is part of “Chilling Calgary”! Burrrrr!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Fastest Man in Loreto!

Most of you reading this will already know that I am currently back in Canada attending the Mexico Living Expo being held in Calgary to promote tourism and Real Estate in Mexico. As a result I have a treat for all of you, a Guest Blog by a Loreto Bay Homeowner and a good friend of mine, Peter.

The idea for this Blog first came to me in the form of an email from Peter who told me briefly about his experience meeting a very interesting Loretano in town. Originally, Peter suggested that I might be interested in meeting this person and writing my own piece about him. Knowing that I would be heading north this week and wouldn’t have much time to write, it seemed to me that this was a great opportunity for Peter to step in and write the following piece.

The fact that Peter has been a loyal Reader of these postings from the beginning, it only took a moderate bit of arm twisting to convince him to try his hand at authoring a post himself. As the results show below, he has the gift of putting his personality (and sense of humor) into his words.

After writing this Blog for over two years and almost 100 postings, I feel a real sense of responsibility to you my Readers to come up with what I hope will be an interesting piece each week about life in Loreto. Needless to say, it is sometimes a challenge to find a topic, and I confess that some weeks I wonder if I have hit the mark. Ironically, it is often from those Blogs that I have had my doubts about, that I get the best feedback.

It is for that reason that I am so pleased to be able to offer someone else’s thoughts and perspective about the experiences we share in Living Loreto. So I hope you enjoy Peter’s Blog as much as I did!

                                                              .   .   .   .  

I was looking for tennis racquet tape when I wandered into the store. My attention was drawn to a display case of medals and an array of trophies. Even my beginner Spanish could translate, “… National 100 meter Track Champion.” As I paid for the tape I pointed to the display, “Is that you?”

I discovered I was talking to Rogelio Cortes, local sports hero and a man of eclectic accomplishments and interests. Rogelio is the owner of ‘Deportes Blazer’, the sports goods and musical instruments store on Hidalgo, a curious combination of merchandise, until you get to know more about his background.

Rogelio is a true Loretano having been born within sight and sound of the iconic Mission, in the “Casa de la Abuela.” By the time he was eleven he had started winning track and field medals and it was during his teen years that he achieved prodigious success on the track, culminating in three National 100 meter Championships. Rogelio also took his speed to the tennis court and, blessed with the eye/hand coordination that eludes many of us, he won several Baha Sur tennis championships.

The Olympics beckoned and a scholarship was offered but with the condition that he become a teacher. Rogelio was not prepared to abandon the family tradition and chose to study for an economics degree at UABCS (the local College in Loreto), eventually becoming the fourth generation of economics graduates in the Cortes family.

Not content with burning up the track, Rogelio next took his quest for speed into the world of auto racing and in 1993 became the first Loretano to win a race class in the Baja 400. He also has the trophies to prove his most recent successes in the Baja quad bike races.

In 2006, the Loreto municipal council broke from the tradition of naming public buildings after (re)tired politicians and announced that the local soccer stadium would carry Rogelio’s name, in recognition of his stellar sporting skills and the honor he had brought to the community.

But there’s more……Rogelio and his family are talented musicians…hence the array of drums, guitars and other musical instruments displayed alongside sporting goods in his store. If you attended the recent Biker’s Band event at Del Borrachos you would have seen Rogelio playing bass in his band “Se ‘Cab√≥”, along with his brother, the architect Jesus Cortes. However as modestly proud as he is of his own musical accomplishments Rogelio takes particular pleasure from the budding success of his son, Oscar.

Drew’s recent blog, “Rockfest-Rock of Ages” lauded “serious talent amongst the younger generation in Loreto.” Well guess what? Oscar Cortes and his cousin are the backbone of the band “Hammer Hit’ who walked away as winners of the youth contest, beating out the competition from all over BCS. Meanwhile his charming young daughter is starting to display her musical talent while Rogelio’s wife, Maricruz is an accomplished singer.

In my follow up conversations with Rogerio I found him to be an engaging character, not carried away with his local celebrity status. He confessed that his knees are starting to complain when he takes part in intense tennis tournaments.

So next time you’re hunting for sporting goods or musical instruments take a look at the display behind the cash desk at Desportes Blazer and you’ll see evidence of someone who is very much part of the establishment in this community, someone who can truly claim to be “Living Loreto”!