Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

It is not without a small degree of trepidation that I begin this, my fourth season of writing “Living Loreto”.  While I am excited about resuming my regular routine of posting stories about my life here in Loreto and the thoughts and activities that I want to share with you, my loyal readers – after my four month hiatus from Loreto it is a bit intimidating to begin the process again, considering the obligation I feel to produce these postings every week for the next eight months.
But, having said that, I realize that the best way to begin again is to do just that – begin!  I returned to Loreto almost two weeks ago, driving here from my summer locale, Calgary in Canada.  This year, however, rather than taking my regular direct route south from Alberta through Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California before entering Mexico, I decided to take a different route, see some new scenery and do some visiting along the way.

In addition to the appeal of a new itinerary and visiting friends along the way, I left Calgary almost a month earlier than in previous years and so I had the luxury of making a more leisurely trip – almost three weeks, instead of the 4 or 5 days that my direct route normally takes.  Taking this additional time had the added benefit of postponing my arrival here earlier in September, when the combination of high temperatures and humidity make life at this latitude challenging, even for those who are acclimatized – let alone for me, having spent the past several months in what can be generously described as a “temperate” climate in western Canada!

So, when I left Calgary I headed west, instead of south, and crossed the Rocky Mountains into  British Columbia where my first stop was Penticton, a small resort city in the south-eastern part of that neighbouring province where I visited friends who are also Homeowners here in Loreto Bay.  Penticton is built around a beautiful large lake which is a vacation hub for many visitors as well as a large retired population.  I was impressed with the growing number of small “craft” vineyards in the area, the microclimate of the south-facing hills being ideal for a thriving local wine industry – Napa Valley North!  But just beyond these acres of lush green irrigated fields, the rolling hills covered with scrub brush in shades of rust and brown, reminded me much of the Baja environment and I realized I was homesick for Loreto with still over 4,000 km to go!
My next stop was Vancouver Island, but first I traveled further west through some of the most scenic mountain terrain in southern BC and along the Fraser River Valley, skirting the suburbs of Vancouver until I reached the major Ferry terminal at Tsawwassen south of the city.  I waited there for the departure to Nanaimo (Duke Point) and spent a relaxing 2 hour trip aboard, before getting back on the road again on the Island and travelling an hour south to the small town of Duncan, which was my next stop.  Although I used to travel Vancouver Island for many years on business, and stopped regularly in Duncan for meetings, in my working life I never had (made) the time to stop here and visit close relatives who live there, an oversight I had great pleasure correcting on this trip.

When I left Duncan, I headed to Victoria, on the southern tip of the Island, the Provincial Capital and one of the most beautiful cities in western Canada.  I have visited Victoria often over the years and it remains one of my favourite places in the whole country – with one of the mildest climates, great architecture, and a breathtaking setting where you are never far from the ocean and rugged coastline.  Here too, I was welcomed by close friends who are Homeowners in Loreto Bay and enjoy their summers in this very different environment of beautiful gardens, stately homes and verdant rainforests – truly the best of both worlds!   

Upon leaving Victoria I took a second Ferry, this time from the centre of Victoria south to Port Angeles in Washington.  After the ever increasing levels of scrutiny that I have become accustomed to crossing into the US on my regular route, the I found the Immigration and Customs routine for this Ferry crossing, while apparently adequately secure, to be much less intimidating and far more welcoming than my experiences at regular highway crossings further inland.  Perhaps this will become a preferred route in the future, when I can arrange my trip this way again.
Port Angeles Washington is a small harbour community with a mix of commercial and pleasure boat traffic and once I cleared the town I enjoyed a leisurely paced drive east and then south around the Olympic Peninsula through rain forest and never far from the rugged shoreline that separates Seattle from the open Pacific Ocean.  Eventually, I joined I-5, the major Interstate southbound to my next destination, Portland, just across the border into Oregon.

I had been looking forward to visiting Portland for some time, both because of how much I have heard about what a unique and beautiful city it is, and particularly because, for some reason, there are a disproportionate number of Homeowners in Loreto Bay from Portland and the surrounding areas.  I was able to visit with two such couples while I was there, and get a taste of what makes Portland such a special place.  While I was there, I had a recurring sense of familiarity – odd under the circumstances, since, as I said, this was my first visit, but it was later, after I left, that I realized why I felt this way. 
Although I spent most of my time while in Canada living in Calgary, thirty years ago I spent a number of years living in Ottawa, Canada’s capital in eastern Canada.  And it was living there with the century old brick buildings, lush gardens and a sense of history that reminded me of what I saw and felt visiting Portland.  Although I know there is much of Portland that is contemporary and similar to most major modern cities, because most of western Canada was settled long after there were thriving cities established in the western States, I realize that I associate the sense of history I was feeling with the older cities in eastern Canada, and so it was strange to me to find that impression “transplanted” to a very western feeling place like Portland.  I look forward to returning and experiencing more of the unique lifestyle Portlanders obviously enjoy!

One of the highlights of my trip was the next three days.  After leaving Portland I headed west to join the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH or 101, a deservedly famous road, accurately named, as it skirts much of the coastline through Oregon and California.  However, just before joining the much anticipated 101 I had surprisingly remarkable experience going through the “H. B. VanDuzer Forest State Scenic Corridor”.  At the beginning of this stretch I noticed an advisory sign stating that the next 22 miles was going to be twisty and hilly – sounds like fun, I thought, but 22 MILES, that must be a bit of exaggeration.
It was no exaggeration!  For the next 22 miles I was on what could be best described as an asphalt roller coaster – Wheeeee!  Although I had my eyes firmly on the road and so couldn’t verify this by mileage, but I swear there wasn’t a ¼ mile stretch of straight road in the entire 22 miles, as this well maintained, albeit narrow two lane road corkscrewed through towering rainforest for almost 45 minutes of breathtaking scenery.  If I ever own a motorcycle, however unlikely that may be, I vow that this stretch of road will be near the top of my bucket list to experience! Not that this is a unique idea of mine, far from it, in fact, fully 50% of the traffic I met on this road was of the two wheel variety, and although I couldn’t verify this, I am sure most of the riders had bugs on their teeth from the silly grins from they were wearing.

But this was just the appetizer for the real treat.  Previously I have driven the PCH northbound several times in the past, but the experience of being on the outside lane southbound as this road travels along some of the most breathtaking coastal views was an even greater thrill.  Mile upon mile of crashing surf, wide expanses of open beach, towering rain forests, quaint seaside villages and an almost uninterrupted chain of State Parks and viewing areas, made for one of the highlights of my travels anywhere!             
My day ended in Brookings OR, at the southern end of the state, just north of the California border where I stayed near a large harbour of mixed commercial, fishing and pleasure boating.  The next day was more of the same, until 101 turned inland for about 50 miles south of Eureka before it met the junction with Highway 1, the Seacoast Highway, which is an even narrower, and, if possible, more scenic road, clinging even more precariously along the coastline for another 50 miles or so.  Reluctantly, at that point I made my way east rejoining 101, which was now an inland road that approached San Francisco.

Rather than attempting the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco at the end of that day, I diverted towards the east Bay, stopping in the unremarkable Vallejo for the night.  My third day took me back to Interstate 5 where I made the uneventful trip south through central California, east of Los Angeles, and along an almost uninterrupted 150 miles of endless orchards.  My passage through LA went smoothly, never leaving the crowded Interstate, until I approached Orange County, about an hour south, although it is impossible to tell where one place name stops and another starts in this hugely populated area.
I have not seen enough of Southern California to express a legitimate opinion, but, regardless -  I think that the area around San Clemente in Orange County epitomizes the ideal SoCal lifestyle – lush manicured lawns, gardens and public spaces, beautiful homes, miles of beaches with surfers on every available wave, charming commercial streets with great stores and restaurants – all in all, an idyllic environment that portrays a popular aspect of the American Dream.  Needless to say, I enjoyed my several days of visiting in this beautiful place, sharing it with good friends who are lucky enough to call this place home!

The day before I was due to enter Mexico I drove the hour and a half to San Diego to meet up with my travelling partner for the final leg into Mexico, who is also a Loreto Bay Homeowner, and we loaded the small amount of remaining space in my Denali with various house wares that were to be transported to Loreto – no space goes unfilled on the southbound trip!  For my last night in America I enjoyed staying in a 5 star Hotel in downtown San Diego, right on the Marina which held the largest flotilla of the most impressive yachts I have ever seen in one place in my life.  There were literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of beautiful boats as far as the eye could see!
That night I went to a SD landmark, the Kansas City BBQ, nearby my Hotel, and enjoyed a rack of “falling off the bone” ribs.  Although this small and very casual restaurant has been here for years, it became part of pop culture when it was used as a location for scenes in the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun almost 20 years ago.  Although this connection was interesting, if trivial, the food was good and it was a fitting end to my journey to date.

The next morning I picked up my passenger in downtown San Diego and we arrived at the Tijuana border by 9:00 am.  As I have mentioned before, crossing borders always entails some uncertainty, but we headed confidently for the “Nothing to Declare” lanes only to be immediately waved over to the secondary inspection.  One look at the obviously capacity load and we were directed to the parking area for a more thorough inspection.
Eventually, we determined that we were expected to remove EVERYTHING from the vehicle before a Customs Agent would look over our load.  Surprisingly, it only took about 15 minutes to “dump” everything around Denny and then I found a likely looking Agent to come and do the inspection.  He poked at a few boxes and asked a few questions and in less than 5 minutes said we were free to go.  Repacking went quickly and even yielded a bit more room than before so we were on our way again 45 minutes after crossing the border.

After a quick stop in Ensenada at the Costco (we didn’t have room to buy much) we carried on south, arriving in Guerrero Negro just as the sun was setting.  There were two extensive construction zones, one south of Ensenada and the other south of Catavina, but I have learned to welcome road construction on Mexico #1 because it means that the next time I pass that way the road will be much improved. 
After an excellent dinner and quiet night at the Malarimo Motel and Restaurant in Guerrero Negro we had a good breakfast and were on the road by 9:00 am, except, because we were now in Baja Sur it was 10:00 am.  But from there it was an easy 4 hour drive across the peninsula and south to Loreto, the last half of which was down the east coast from Santa Rosalia past the breathtaking Bahia Conception, almost deserted in the end of summer heat which reached 104 degrees in the afternoon.

And so ended my extended journey south almost 5,000 km in 3 weeks through some of the most spectacular scenery in the west of North America, broken up with wonderful visits with friends and family along the way – what a perfect way to begin another winter of “Living Loreto”!
P.S.  I have exceeded my normal budget for this first instalment, but considering the ground I covered I hope not to have taxed your patience.  However, if you will indulge me one more thing - I am very excited to announce that I have launched a new personal website at where you will be able to find this Blog posted every week along with Real Estate information about the Loreto Bay development and many new features to come this season including photos, video links and much more I hope to add to enrich the experiences I share in “Living Loreto”.  I hope you will bookmark this new link and adopt the habit of going there to find the Blog every weekend.  But rest assured, this blog will continue to be available at in the future, however if you continue to read the Blog there you will not be able to access some of the bonus features I will be adding to the new site this season – so I hope you will switch where you read this and make a habit of visiting in the future!