Sunday, December 30, 2012

Butter, Baking & the Baja

This week it is sort of a Holiday Blog, I am giving myself the Gift of a shorter posting as it has been a busy week with my Visitors (yes, my Sister’s eyesight is much improved, thank you very much!) and more than usual activity showing homes at work, due to the increased numbers of people here for the Holidays.

But I wanted to share one small snippet from our Christmas preparation; as we were leaving La Paz following the events of last week’s posting, my Sister’s thoughts had shifted from a potential vision emergency to Christmas baking, and she told me that she would be needing several pounds of butter.  Now I had seen butter in at least one store in Loreto a day or so before, but considering the influx of visitors and the potential increased demand over the Holidays I thought it would be prudent to pick up a few pounds in a Supermarket before we left the “big city” of La Paz.

A word of explanation for those not familiar with grocery shopping in the Baja – the Spanish for butter is mantequilla, and margarine is margarina  - so far so good.  Except that mantequilla is not pure creamery butter as we know it up north, it is margarine mixed with a smaller amount of butter (less butter = lower price), and actual butter here is usually imported from the US.

 As we drove out of La Paz I stopped at “Mega” a truly enormous state-of-the-art supermarket – lots of mantequilla and margarina, but no butter.  Not to worry, there was another big Mexican clone of Walmart, Sorriana, just down the road – however, it was the same story.  My final stop was at the real Walmart at the entrance to La Paz, surely the biggest retailer in the world would have butter less than a week before Christmas (I almost felt foolish parking in the big lot and making my way into the huge store just for a few pounds of butter) – but NADA!

As we drove north to Loreto that afternoon I started to obsess over butter (Last Tango in the Baja, anyone?) and, while I still expected that I could find butter in Loreto I decided I would stop in the city of Constitucion at the Super Lay supermarket en-route – even though, being in a non-tourist Mexican town, I didn’t really expect that they would have the elusive butter.  But in my somewhat twisted view of fate and karma I figured that if I didn’t stop to check it out, I would somehow jinx myself for the last chance option back in Loreto – and I was right – still no butter!

But all’s well that is generously spread with butter, and sure enough, the next day when we went “hunting and gathering” back in Loreto the next day, my first stop was my favorite food store in Loreto, Dali Delicatessen – and, thank goodness, there in the dairy cooler were bricks and bricks of beautiful BUTTER!  Christmas was saved!  Let them eat shortbread!  My Sister could fulfill her genetic imperative – (we bought four pounds).

(The following paragraph was inserted by my Sister [now Editor?] regarding the Gourmet Magazine aspect of her hours of hard labor on my “hard Saltillo floor” standing doing the Christmas baking – but, spoiler alert, step away from the keyboard if you tend to dribble reading food-porn:) 

“And when we got home, she disappeared into the kitchen with the butter. She hand mixed butter and sugar, and out came traditional Scottish shortbread wedges topped with amber granules of brown sugar.  She hand-chopped pecans, and blended icing sugar and butter, and out came Mexican wedding cakes (of course!). She blended rolled oats and butter and simmered gloriously fresh dates into a paste, and layered date squares. She kneaded another pound of butter and flour into a soft dough, and pressed it into a pan; while it toasted golden in the oven, she coaxed a can of condensed milk to turn into dulche de leche in the microwave, and melted sticks of dark chocolate, to build a tray of Millionaire’s shortbread. Another bowl of dates was chopped with almonds into a fine paste, and rolled into crunchy truffles to dust with powdered cinnamon or cocoa. The plates and cookie tins were full, the whole house was fragrant with butter and sugar and spices, and all the butter was gone.”

On reflection, after we had all calmed down again, it occurred to me that here in little Loreto there was butter easily available (if you knew where to look) but not in three of the biggest stores in a city 10 times the size – admittedly an unusual yardstick of sophistication, but I think valid, none the less.

In any event, we had a wonderful Christmas dinner with two neighborhood couples, who both contributed to the Canadian traditional meal of Turkey with all the trimmings – and finished up with a pumpkin pie from “Ette’s Pies” and a big platter of Christmas baking – all of it loaded with BUTTER.

Appreciating the simple things in life, particularly when they are hard to find, that is one of the best parts of “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Visitors bring Healthcare Challenge

This is the first Holiday Season I have spent here in Loreto since my very first Christmas in 2005, just a month after taking possession of the newly finished casa.  This year I am also hosting my Sister Janice and Brother-in-Law Tom, here for a visit from Calgary, who arrived last week. 

On the first day they arrived, at the end of a fairly late night of catching up with each other, my Sister reported that on her way to bed she noticed a cascade of “sparkly flashes” of light in one eye, but thought nothing of it, putting it down to the late hour and the fatigue of air travel – and perhaps overindulgence in the welcoming beverages!

However, the next morning she awoke with cloudy vision in that eye and a large black “floater” in the bottom corner of her vision – and the realization that this might be something serious that required some action.  After conversation over breakfast it was decided that the first course of action should be for Janice to call her Optometrist in Calgary and ask him for his opinion.  Connecting over Skype (voice over internet phone service) she was able to speak with her Calgary Doctor and, after questioning her about her symptoms, he concluded that it was likely caused by one of two conditions; a condition called PVD (posterior vitreous detachment ), which was a non-threatening condition that would resolve itself eventually and did not require any urgent attention – or, alternatively it could be a tear or detachment of the retina which was potentially a very serious situation and would require  immediate treatment by laser stapling to prevent further retinal detachment and potential blindness!  

Faced with these serious options, our first priority was obviously to find someone who could determine which of them we were facing, before we could decide what, if any, further action was going to be required.  To that end, I decided the first step was to call one of my Loretano friends, Cecilia, who has lived off and on in Loreto for years and is fluently bi-lingual, and I thought could be helpful in this situation. 

I wanted to get in touch with a Dr. Gill, who owns one of the three Optical offices in Loreto, and was by reputation by far the most qualified, and the only Optometrist in town, as the other two were Opticians, qualified to fill optometric prescriptions and to fit glasses. I had visited Dr. Gill’s Office several times earlier this Fall to order a new pair of lenses for my own glasses, but had always found the Office closed.

So, when I called Cecilia that morning I was hoping she could help me get in touch with Dr. Gill and arrange an appointment for him to examine my Sister’s eye and determine if, and how serious a situation we were dealing with.  When Cecilia answered her cell phone my first question was “Are you in Loreto”, to which she replied, “No, I’m in La Paz, how can I help you?”

After I explained the situation, Cecilia said she would get in touch with her Mother, who lives in Loreto, and ask her to try get in touch with Dr. Gill for me, and Cecilia would try to call me back in 10 or 15 minutes.  When she got back to me called back it was to say that her Mother had not been able to get an answer on Dr. Gill’s cell and so she was going over to his house to see if he was at home – another advantage of living in a small town!  Sometime later I got another call back from Cecilia, her Mother had determined that there was no one home at Dr. Gill’s and furthermore, she had asked around and found out that he was away from Loreto and was not due to return until February.   

Definitely time for “Plan B”!  After confirming with Cecilia that Dr. Gill was the only qualified person here to evaluate my Sister’s situation, we quickly came to the conclusion that our best option was probably going to be found in La Paz, which is where the biggest and best Hospitals are – and, (coincidentally?) where Cecilia was. 

So it was left that she would make inquiries and identify who she thought would be the best available specialist we could get an appointment with as soon as possible, hopefully by the afternoon of the following day, as La Paz was a 4 hour drive from Loreto and it was already getting on for late morning, probably too late to make the trip and be there in time to see anyone that day.  While we were waiting to hear back from Cecilia, my Sister was becoming more familiar with the symptoms in her eye and was noticing that the “black spot” was thinning out and moving from the bottom to the top of her eye, which we took to be a good sign – inconsistent with our most serious concern of retinal damage, which presents as a firmly closing black shutter across the field of vision.

In the meantime, I wanted to see if I could find some medical assistance locally that might be able to shed further light (pardon the pun) on the situation.  After speaking to several people in the community I got some useful input from Cynthia (who runs the Wine Cellar here with her husband Will), first of all, she had met a new General Practitioner Doctor in Loreto who spoke fluent English and had recently opened a small Clinic, half-days in Loreto. Secondly, she said she had recently seen a “thread” on a Yahoo Group; “La Paz Gringos”, dealing with someone who was looking for medical assistance with a retinal detachment and the thread contained some referral information to resources in La Paz which she copied and forwarded to me.

While we were still waiting to hear further from Cecilia, we headed into town to the new Medical Clinic, located on the ground floor of the Santa Fe Hotel, which I had been told was open Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 8:00 pm.  We walked into the small waiting area of the Office and were immediately greeted by Dr. Angel Alaniz (cell 613-104-2077) who was alone in his office, and invited Janice into his examination room, where she described her symptoms and he asked her questions and gave her answers in flawless English and conducted a basic examination of her eyes. 

Following this, he invited Tom and myself into the Office and explained to all of us that, while his brief examination was not in any way thorough or decisive, he had not seen anything alarming, but he assured us that Janice should see a specialist as soon as possible.  In the meantime, he prescribed some drops that might help if there was any infection that could be a cause or result of the condition.  For this advice and his immediate consultation, and over half an hour of consultation, the charge was merely 100 Pesos – or about $7.00 US! 

(I can highly recommend Dr. Alaniz and plan to contact him again, any time I need the services of a Doctor here locally.  He spends his mornings on call at the Villa del Palmar Resort south of Loreto Bay, and weekday afternoons in his Clinic in town, and is available for emergencies on his cell at anytime – an important new health resource for the English speaking community here in Loreto!)

Later that evening, I received a call from Cecilia; after canvassing her friends in La Paz she had identified a Doctor Fausto Ortiz who was an “Oftalmologo Cirujano de Retina y Vitreo” which I roughly translate as an Ophthalmologist Eye Surgeon – exactly the man we needed to see!  His Office in La Paz was adjacent to the FIDEPAZ Hospital (which was featured in a Guest Blog from January of this year “Healthcare in the Baja”) and he could see us for an examination appointment almost immediately, at 6:15 pm the following day! Try to get into a highly qualified specialists´ office on a day´s notice in Calgary!

Of course, we accepted the appointment with enthusiasm, with many thanks to Cecilia for having found Dr. Ortiz and made the appointment for us.  We quickly made plans to leave here just after noon the next day for the approximately 4-hour drive to La Paz, made reservations to spend the night there after the appointment and to meet Cecilia and her boyfriend for dinner.

The drive to La Paz was uneventful, although my Sister was intimidated by the narrow road, yawning cliffs, and the twists and turns of Mexico Highway #1, which I have become used to driving over the years.  We located the Hospital, painted bright purple, and located on the main road entering La Paz, just past the Walmart, and then we proceeded on into the center of town where we had reservations at the 7 Crowns Hotel on the Malacon where I had stayed on previous visits.

After checking in to this scrupulously clean, comfortable business-class hotel, we headed back to the Hospital, arriving half an hour early for our appointment in Dr. Ortiz’s Office, in the wing across the parking lot from the main entrance.  After a short wait he saw Janice before the appointment time and after discussing her symptoms and giving a quick preliminary exam, he put anesthetic and dilating drops in her eye and told her (in excellent English) to wait fifteen minutes  for her pupil to dilate before he did a more thorough examination.

He then called me and my Brother-in-law into the examining room; as he explained, “this is an important conversation and you all need to listen!”  The examination was extensive and lasted for perhaps ten minutes, with a similar sequence of intense lights and ¨Look up; look down; look left; look right¨ that she was familiar with in her Calgary Optometrist´s examination.

When he finished, and we were all nervously repositioned in front of his desk again, he beamed at us with a wide smile, and said, ¨There is NOTHING wrong with your eye!¨

He had found no damage to her retina and diagnosed that she had experienced a very common condition which affects 60% of people over 60 and 90% of those in their 90´s.  This, he explained, was very similar to what happens in an egg when the egg white (vitreous fluid) is reduced in volume over time and then can eventually draw the enclosing membrane slightly away from the egg shell (retina).  This is seen as the sparkling light show she had experienced. When the membrane pulls away, there can be a tiny droplet of blood released into the vitreous fluid, which creates the “floater” she had seen, which will diminish over time and eventually disappear.

In other words he assured us that there was no damage and there would be no lasting consequences and no treatment required, but he also, advised having her vision checked again when she returns home, and see a Doctor as soon as possible if she has a recurrence of the “sparkly” lights, the symptom of the separation, in case there is retinal damage the next time.  For almost an hour in total of his time, including a thorough explanation of the specifics of the condition to Janice, her husband Tom and myself, including showing us numerous illustrations in one of his medical reference books – the total charge was one thousand pesos, or about $75.00 US. 

Needless to say we were all very relieved and happy with the diagnosis as we headed off to meet Cecilia and her friend at a great local Italian restaurant, where we thanked her again in person and went on to enjoy an interesting evening of conversation together over good food and wine.  The next day, after stroll along the La Paz Malacon and a little early Christmas shopping we headed back to Loreto in the afternoon, arriving here just before sunset around 5:00 pm. 

And so, all’s well that ends well with our Medical “adventure”, but what I will take away from this experience is the way that I was able to reach out to my friends here, and with their care and help, find the very specialized person we needed to see - and be in his office 300 km away getting exactly the care we needed within 36 hours of the event, a sequence I think would be difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate in as timely a manner where my Sister came from back in Canada ,in a city of a million people.            

Finding that sort of friendly support, and accessing that quality of medical care, in that short a period of time, and at such low cost – this experience has given me an even greater appreciation for “Living Loreto”.

Felize Navidad y Felize Año Nuevo de Loreto!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Fish Story - Guest Blog

One of the indirect rewards from my job selling Real Estate here in Loreto Bay is introducing people to the community that I live in, and then seeing them adapt and integrate themselves into that community - making it bigger and better by their presence here.

This Fall, a couple that I met earlier in the year made the transition from Clients to Neighbors and are now in the process of settling into their new home and lifestyle here.  Jim and Liz have travelled extensively here in Mexico and have enjoyed an exciting and interesting life leading up to their decision to make Loreto Bay their home.  Among the many interests that they have brought to their new life in Loreto, Jim has combined his love of fishing with kayaking and taken advantage of the close proximity of the Sea of Cortez to pursue this challenging and pure form of the sport.

One morning this week, as I was eating my breakfast there was a cautious knock at the door and when I opened it to my early visitor Jim was standing there with a grin on his face, his kayak beside him – and when he stood aside I saw the reason behind the early morning visit.

There, in Jim’ pedal drive one man kayak, (on wheels to roll it back to the house after returning from his early morning expedition) was a 3 ft. long iridescent gold/green Dorado. Whereabouts, Jim began a brief, but adrenaline charged description of the adventure he had just returned from.

I grabbed my camera and, half-jokingly, took a few shots of Jim and his impressive catch – after 150 posts one never knows when a “Blog Item” might happen – which I think is when I asked Jim if he would consider writing a Guest Blog.  And, to my pleasant surprise, he didn’t say No!  But, my surprise turned to enthusiasm the next day when the following piece arrived at my Inbox.

For me, a Guest Blog can be a rare treat, a welcome break in the weekly demand to come up with something to write about.  So when I read what you are about to, I hope you will share my enthusiasm for a great story – well told: 


Sea Of Cortez Fishing: You Never Know What’s Coming For You


…get down under the skin of any real fisherman, past all talk of tippets and leaders and patterns and hatches, shooting heads and weighted nymphs, and you find a man who is still and always fishing for something that he can only know through the lifelong experience of not catching it.

                                     Franklin Burroughs, Billy Watson's Croker Sack


It was Thursday, December 13, and I was on the water before sunup.  Sky was overcast, some threatening thunderstorms to the west, no wind, glassy seas, air and water about 70 degrees, and a high tide on a new moon.  Perfect conditions for kayak fishing!  To top it off, 13 is my lucky number, so no way was I sleeping in.

In the Sea of Cortez, on any given day you can catch 20 different kinds of fish—or more.  Spouses wonder why guys have so much fishing tackle, different types of rods and reels. And of course they suggest you should learn how to fish like the Mexican who often has no rod and reel, just throws a hand line with hook, sinker and bait – and catches fish, as my wife points out. The contortions and twists in logic that a fisherman must get good at to explain all that fishing stuff!

The beauty of fishing in Baja is that you never know what’s coming for your lure.  On my first trip fishing in Baja, I caught 26 different kinds of fish and over the years, I have eaten every type but three. But if you don’t have the right rig, you lose the fish – and more. Lost lures, spooled reels and busted rods are all part of the experience. You can be at the right place at the right time, but if you don’t have the right stuff, you lose and the fish wins.

 And just when you think you’ve got it dialed in, another type of fish with big teeth comes along and cuts the line and takes your lure or rocks you.  Seared in my brain is that fleeting glimpse of what was making a boil right near shore last week, and when I saw that it was a school of 40 pound Jack Crevalle and I had only 20 pound braid on a 6-12 pound rated spinning rod and reel I knew it was not my day. 

During the previous weeks of fishing I had caught many of the fish that hang out in the neighborhood, but what I really wanted was a nice bonita or dorado. 

For the big boys that fish for sailfish and marlin, bonita is just bait, but if that fish is bled and put on ice right away it makes great sashimi.  Just cut it into thin slices and marinate with lemon and sesame oil, or sauté with mangos, tomato and onion – ummmm…

And the dorado is the fish that made Loreto famous. In the Baja fishing bible, The Baja Fish Catch, authors Neil Kelly and Gene Kira write that the “dorado is the greatest game fish of all….arm wrenching power, show stopping beauty, electrifying action, and it tastes terrific any way you care to cook it.”  Can’t say it better than that. 

It is also a great choice for those wanting to choose sustainable seafood.  According to Paul Johnson, owner of the Monterey Fish Market, dorado, or mahi mahi, only live about five years and can grow as much as five pounds a month.  Paul suggests their short life span makes them less susceptible to parasite or pollutant accumulations. They contain low to moderate amounts of omega 3 fatty acids and are a good low-fat high-protein source of B vitamins and minerals. 

So before dawn, I headed for the rock right out in front of the hotel – Punta Nopolo. There was lots of fishy activity just beneath the surface.  I trolled a black and silver Fastrac rebel over to the rock and got hit just as I got there by a nice cabrilla. Could see when I brought him in that there were firecracker size yellow tail in the water too. And lots of fish feeding near the surface.  Flying fish coming out of the water everywhere, being pushed around by the bigger fish, and while there were not any huge boils with birds diving, plenty of boils with good sized fish…making wakes….nice big wakes.  No stinking needle fish! I let the cabrilla go and kept fishing.

I switched to my casting reel with 30 pound braid and started to cruise and cast to where I thought a fish was going to be.  Saw a nice wake, led it by about five feet, and threw a 3” green and silver Krocodile lure.  Almost immediately after the lure hit the water, bang!  Fish on.  No problem figuring out what it was. It was airborne, shaking its head, tail walking, and putting on an air show that only one fish is known for – the dorado.

As it started hauling me around in the kayak, I realized I had not brought the gaff or small baseball bat, and this fish was not going to fit in the small cooler I had on the back of the kayak. So now I needed to make sure I had my act together – without my stuff – and could fight and maybe land the fish.

I at least had the drag set about right, and had secured my other rod.  From The Baja Fish Catch again: “Keeper dorado should be played out, gaffed and clubbed on the head before being brought onboard. Then club it again, Sam, hard. With a large dorado, in a small boat, it’s either you or it.” From my own previous experience on real boats, I knew these fish just don’t go easy. 

I convinced myself it could be done – but what if I lost it?  Just another big fish story about the one that got away. Or my kayak – containing me – is dragged clear to the other side of the Sea of Cortez…

So it occurred to me to get a picture, in case I didn’t land it or had to cut the line.  At least the air show was over and now the fish was just taking me in big circles. I got it tired out and tried to take a couple of pictures. One hand holding the camera, one hand holding the rod and fighting the fish, sunglasses fogged over – looking like a real pro. 

Then I started thinking about how I was going to land the fish, bleed it, and get it to shore.  Left my rope stringer on my big boat in Anacortes, but had a small piece of line that could work for towing the fish home.  Could work – or would I be making my kayak a giant lure for a really big fish?  Decided to risk it, assuming I landed the fish, but, man, I had to make sure that dorado was not moving before I got it close to the boat to land. It could create some real havoc trying to share space with me on top of the kayak. And there was no way it was fitting in the small cooler.  Patience… I just needed to wait it out. 

Ok, time to get it together. I kept telling myself, don’t be in a hurry. Just tire the fish out. Get all your stuff put away so it can’t snag hooks and things.  Don’t be dumping your stuff or tipping over the kayak just to catch this fish.  Get the small rope out and make a loop, so when the time comes you can cut the gills with your pliers and bleed it.  Sashimi here we come!

Finally the fish was good and tired, so I pulled it up for one more picture.  You can see that it was not that well hooked. I could not believe it didn’t throw the hook earlier during the air show it put on.

Ok, use the bogagrips to hold the fish, get that hook out of its mouth, and secure the hook in case there’s a rodeo on the boat. Fish on board!  Now the hard part – getting rope through its gills, cutting the gills and bleeding the fish in the water.  No Sea lions around so I headed back to the condo with the dorado hanging in the water.

Back at the condo by 0900, fish and boat cleaned by 1000.  Fish for dinner tonight and after dinner, another great opportunity to bring up my endless need for more fishing stuff. Maybe I can compromise! I buy more lures, and maybe another reel; my wife gets another more yarn to stash and a hundred or so knitting needles…

What do you do with endless skeins or yarn that seem to breed in the closet and hundreds of knitting needles, you ask?  I don’t.  Because I don’t want to explain what I’m going to do with new flies, lures, line, reels… We get along quite well.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trying to Chill in Loreto

I think that my recent, and currently ongoing, experiences with the refrigerator in my house will provide a small, but valuable counterbalance to the predominantly “good news” messages that have been the norm in my posts to this Blog. 

Several weeks ago I noticed that the digital temperature display inside my fridge was no longer working, causing one of those “take-it-for-granted” reality check moments.  Like in most other households, a basic appliance like the refrigerator is one of those things that, as long as it works, one doesn’t normally spend any time thinking about.  Until it stops working – and then, all of a sudden, it becomes the focus of one’s attention . . . until is repaired and starts working again and life goes back to a normal state of indifference again.

However, one of the realities of living in a small community in a remote part of the Baja in Mexico, is that whenever something goes wrong with any of the more complex devices that makes life here easier, more comfortable, or more entertaining, the solution is often considerably more challenging that what we would be used to where we came from in North America. 

Of course, this generalization does not apply to everything – for instance, it has been my experience in the past that car mechanics here in Mexico are more resourceful than many of their counterparts I have had dealings with elsewhere.  For example, when my power steering pump died during a visit to Cabo San Lucas several years ago, the mechanic (who was working from the courtyard of his family home) had to order a new pump from the mainland, and it took several days to arrive.  However, when he went to install it he discovered that he had been sent the wrong part and the mounting bracket did not align with my engine block.      

But rather than re-ordering the replacement part, which would have entailed another 3 or 4 days wait and the associated expenses of extending my already longer than anticipated Hotel stay, the mechanic spent several hours disassembling both pumps and transferring the new working parts from the replacement into the housing of my old pump, which he then reinstalled on the engine.  A solution that I think would not likely have been considered by most of the mechanics I have had dealings with outside of Mexico.  The difference here being that mechanics expect to FIX things, not just replace old parts with new ones until the vehicle starts working again – perhaps this is an unfair simplification, but such has been my automotive repair experience elsewhere.  

But back to my refrigerator!  When the problem with the temperature display first occurred the fridge continued to work normally – for a day or so – during which time I half hoped the problem would somehow resolve itself spontaneously, no such luck!  The next thing I noticed was a “click/whirring” sound that repeated over and over, like the mechanism was trying to reset itself, unsuccessfully.  This symptom went on for apparently random periods of time before eventually the compressor kicked in and resumed the cooling and freezing functions again, albeit temporarily.

By this point it had become clear that there was not going to be any Divine Intervention and that I needed professional help to find a solution.  It is mainly for situations like this that I pay for year-round Property Management, since locating, arranging for, and communicating with, in this case, a qualified Appliance Repairman here in Loreto is not the straightforward exercise it would be where I used to live.  And so it was, a few days later, Antonio from my Property Manager arrived at my house with a Spanish speaking technician.

The good news was that the technician quickly identified that the problem was the electronic circuit board that controlled the temperature and display function – the bad news was that he was unsure where a replacement could be found; but it would be almost certainly from the Mainland, and he had no idea how long it might take, or how much it might cost to get it here.     

Meanwhile, the periods of “clicking and whirring” were getting longer and the periods of cooling and freezing were getting shorter, with the result that things in my well stocked freezer were starting to slowly thaw and the refrigerator section was turning into more of a pantry than a cooler – in other words, action was required faster than the Mexican solution was apparently going to deliver.

 So I sat down at my computer and in a short time I had found an appliance parts distributor back in Calgary, called them by Skype (internet based phone) and, with the model number of the fridge and the description of the part I needed, identified the part number, which they then confirmed that they had ONE in stock – in all of Canada!  So I gave them my credit card information to prepay for it and told them to hold it for pick-up.

Next I began the search for a potential courier to bring the part from Calgary to Loreto.  I knew of one couple who were coming down in a couple of weeks but when I got in touch with them they were able to tell me of another friend from Calgary who was coming down the following week.  After exchanging a couple of emails the arrangements were made and a few days later my “savior” arrived bearing the necessary circuit board.

However, in the meantime the fridge was now off more than on and I had to make some alternate arrangements in the form of borrowing the freezer in a nearby unoccupied house of a friendly neighbor and keep a bag of ice in the refrigerator to maintain some degree of coolness for the contents.  The day after the part arrived I had a return visit form my property manager and the technician who went about replacing the circuit board – but, unfortunately, the same problem persisted. 

After pulling the fridge out of the wall cabinet and disassembling the back panel he pronounced that it was now the main circuit board that was the culprit – and, of course, the same problems existed with finding and delivering the part to the Baja from elsewhere in Mexico.  So now, drawing on my recent experience with the procedure, I again called the same parts distributor in Calgary, who, once again (fortunately) had the part in stock, which I again I prepaid for to hold for pick up.  I then got back in touch with the original couple, whose trip was now only about a week away, and they kindly agreed to pickup this second circuit board and bring it with them when they arrive next week.

As I write this, my refrigerator is still not working over two weeks after I discovered the initial problem, I have gone through daily bags of ice, made nightly visits to my neighbors to get my evening entrée from the borrowed freezer and have discarded some vegetables and dairy products that have had a dramatically shorter shelf life in my barely cool fridge than normal.  But I am cautiously optimistic that the second circuit board will be the cure (there’s not much else electronic that could go wrong!) and I have also realized that however much we take these “modern conveniences” for granted, life does go on with or without them.

I have also come to appreciate how important a seemingly small gesture like a friend picking up a part and bring it here in their luggage becomes, when I am faced with the challenge of sourcing that hard to find component here.  But even more importantly, this refrigerator episode has brought into focus how different a world I live in here, than where I came from – and while this is an example of how not all those differences are positive, on reflection, I realize that I do take some real satisfaction from having found (what I hope to be) a solution.  Learning to deal with the bad, as well as celebrate the good – that is an important lesson to learn while “Living Loreto”. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

El Cardon - Mexican Cantina in Loreto Bay

One of the signs of the evolution of Loreto Bay as more than just a collection of homes, has been the addition of businesses in the commercial spaces along the Paseo that bisects our community.  This Fall marked the opening of another of these new enterprises, El Cardon (The Cactus) a Cantina style restaurant serving traditional Mexican foods.

El Cardon specializes in a lunch menu of light meals including tacos, burritos, tostados, cheviche and salads, with a beverage selection that includes micro-brewery drafts as well as bottled beers, margaritas and several non-alcoholic choices.  They are also open early evenings several times a week with a special plate such as Pescado Veracruz, Chiles Rellenos, Enchilada Verdes, or Chicken or Pork Mole in addition to the regular menu.

This new dining option in Loreto Bay has proved to be a popular addition to the growing number of food venues here in Loreto Bay; Hoyo 19 (the Golf Clubhouse restaurant), Macciatos (a coffee shop/bakery/pizzeria), El Corazon (barrista coffee/bakery serving breakfasts and lunches) and The Wine Bar (with a tapas style menu) as well as the restaurants at the INN, or Loreto Spa and Golf Resort. Gone are the days when going out for a meal here in Loreto Bay necessarily meant a 30 km round trip into town, we now have a growing selection of interesting and tasty options within an easy stroll from homes and this has added a significant improvement in lifestyle for the growing numbers of Residents.

The Owners of El Cardon are Kieran and Norma, familiar to many Loretanos as the proprietors of “1697”, one of the more popular restaurants in the town of Loreto, located overlooking the historic (and recently renovated) town square.  One afternoon this week I sat down with Kieran on the patio of El Cardon to talk about the new restaurant and the fascinating story of how this couple came to make a place for themselves here in Loreto.

Unlikely as it may sound, the story begins in Hong Kong about 10 years ago where Norma, who was born in Mexico, was working for a Bank developing export markets for Mexico and Kieran was an IT specialist with an American firm, recently transferred from Australia and halfway around the world from his birthplace in Ireland.  Sharing a love of food and travel their relationship grew as they vacationed together in exotic places and talked often of a dream of leaving the corporate world to open a restaurant somewhere they could enjoy their love of the sea and sailing.

In the summer of 2004 on their Honeymoon visiting Mexico, they checked out several possible locations on the Mainland, but were not sure they had found the right spot for their “dream business”.  They were considering the Baja, but both knew that Los Cabos was too big and developed, and then Norma suggested a little place she had heard about – Loreto.  After spending a few days here on that trip, they went back to Hong Kong and their jobs, before returning again at New Years in ’05, when they saw the numbers of Visitors and Residents here during “high season” and confirmed the potential of this location for their planned restaurant.      

Having found the location, things started to happen quickly, they resigned from their jobs and Kieran went to Ireland for an intensive 3 month Cooking School and then he returned to Mexico, reuniting with Norma who was awaiting the birth of their son Patricio with her family in her home town on the Mainland.  For the next 9 months Kieran worked with one of Norma’s relatives who owned a restaurant, getting practical experience in running the business, during which time they purchased the property in Loreto that would become “1697”, their restaurant named after the year that the Jesuit Mission was founded here.

In January ’06 with their now 3 month old son and all their worldly possessions, they drove across Mainland Mexico, crossed on the La Paz ferry to arrive in Loreto and begin the new chapter of their lives. After gutting and rebuilding the original house they had purchased for their restaurant, they converted it into an interior dining room and bar with a small outside patio area and opened for business in June of that year.

A few years later, when the town square that the restaurant overlooked underwent a major renovation they were able to expand their outdoor patio area and convert some of the interior space into two simple guest bedrooms rounding out their now successful restaurant business with the additional appeal of this “boutique” accommodation in this picturesque location.

The opening and evolution of their business in Loreto coincided with the timing of the Loreto Bay Community and they developed a strong clientele from the increasing numbers of Homeowners spending time here.  As they observed the ups and downs of the recent history of the development they sensed the growing community spirit here and saw the beginnings of the commercial services become established.

At the end of last season, on one of their occasional visits here, over a coffee at El Corazon Norma had the inspiration for a simple Mexican Cantina style restaurant that could be operated with a minimal kitchen, supplied with partially prepared ingredients from their main kitchen in town.  With the assistance of Nellie, who is the Broker for the rental of commercial space in the development, they found the perfect location with room for a bar and food prep area and a few tables indoors, and a sidewalk patio with more seating outside.

Over the past summer, they created a vibrant décor in the small interior and finished the renovations in time for a soft opening as the Residents began to return this past Fall.  As the population has grown over the past few months, they have developed a steady lunchtime business and their patio often attracts afternoon customers who can enjoy a cool drink under the patio umbrellas and watch the world (or at least this small part of it) pass by on the Paseo.

Currently El Cardon is open for early evening dining 3 days a week with a special featured dish in addition to the regular menu selections, and they are considering adding a fourth evening, when the traffic justifies it.  However, Kieran feels confident that their gamble on the future of Loreto Bay has been more than successful so far, and he and Norma are excited about their potential for the future as a part of our Community.    

 Seeing friends and neighbors from the nearby town of Loreto contributing their talents and energy, adding to the amenities and investing in the future of Loreto Bay, is a strong and positive indication of the growth and synergy that will insure the future of our beautiful home here in the Baja.  Learning another fascinating origin story from the newest addition to our Community is another part of the picture that is “Living Loreto”!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Flotsam and Jetsam

One of my favorite things to do, especially early in the morning, is to walk the beach from my neighborhood cluster of homes south towards Punta Nopolo, the point of rock that lends it’s name to the district surrounding Loreto Bay.  Unfortunately, one of the side effects of being gainfully employed at my job selling Real Estate here in this community, is that routine and schedules can preclude some of the simple pleasures of living here – so one early morning this week I set out for one of the first sunrise beach walks that I have taken this season.

My motivation this morning was awakening to a clear sky, after several days of unusual overcast – strange to realize how quickly we can take the almost consistently perfect weather here for granted, when it takes a cloudy day to realize what “normal” is really like.  Because overnight and early mornings have cooled off significantly from even a few weeks ago, I pulled on a long sleeved fleece and pants, grabbed my hat and camera and headed out to greet the dawn.

About 250 feet from my front door, past six or seven homes and I am on the sea grass berm that separates the high water line from the eastern edge of the development and my eye is automatically drawn south, to my right, where the sky is beginning to blaze behind Punta Nopolo, an iconic feature of this place that I never tire of photographing every chance I get – which may explain why I chose that image as the title page of this Blog.

As we approach the winter solstice in about a month, the sun now rises at close to it’s southerly extent from behind the rocky outcrop that gives meaning to the historic local description “where the Mountains come to swim”.  Moving into the New Year, sunrise will gradually move north around the horizon and be seen coming from behind the distant Ilsa Carmen, the huge Island that frames the ocean from due east and as far south as we can see from here.

On this morning (and every dawn is unique, albeit in subtle ways) it is approaching a high tide, which while it only fluctuates about a foot, the low tide can stretch the beach 30 to 50 feet wide, due to the very gradual shelf of our bay.  This morning the high water line is marked with a considerable accumulation of flotsam and jetsam that has been washed back ashore following the runoff from Hurricane Paul last month. 

I recall that I had seen, on my first trip to the beach following that storm, numerous stacks of these debris that had been tidied into piles along the beach, but viewing it now, it is apparent that either nothing had been done to remove the piles, and they had once again distributed themselves due to wave action, or else this was additional material that had washed up since the initial onslaught.  But regardless, I took some comfort in the fact the there was very little “man made” litter mixed into the mainly palm husks, uprooted shrubbery, and the occasional palm trunk that had been washed down the arroyos from somewhere up in the Mountains to our west.

Here in Loreto Bay, ours is a “natural” beach, more fine gravel than sand composition in most places and, other than the 100 yards or so in front of the INN, not normally groomed, which improves the beachcombing prospects, with a constantly changing variety of shells and other small treasures from the sea being deposited here for the finding. 

On this morning, I only meet a few fellow beach walkers, a man and his boisterous medium sized dog off leash, later followed by two women escorting on leash their two diminutive, but no less self-possessed specimens, one a white terrier type and a black exotic of some description I am not familiar with.  These encounters remind me once again, that the considerable and privileged dog community here is probably among the most contented of creatures to call Loreto Bay home.  Not to say that their owners do not also enjoy being here – but there are few happier sights than a dog on the beach at sunrise!            

As the sun continues to rise, I can all of a sudden feel the warmth of the day to come in the air – as I reach the southern end of my trek and turn to retrace my footsteps in the soft wet beach.  When my eyes lift from the creamy pulse of the surf, and I see the gilded faces of the beachfront homes stretching around the gentle crescent of Loreto Bay, I flash back to the same view from several years back. 

Not so long ago now, but the changes are dramatic – in just a couple of years the beachfront row of custom homes has progressed from mainly half-finished structures clad in raw concrete and plaster, separated by more undeveloped lots than completed homes.  Now, this morning, the majority of these impressive buildings have been completed into living homes, each unique and distinct in their features, but unified by consistent design guidelines and part of our planned community.

As I wander back to my own familiar cluster that I have called home now for over 6 years, I once again am torn between these two perspectives – how much has happened and how far we have come, in what seems to be both the eternity of my time here and the fleetingly short history since it all began with chalk lines on virgin sand less than 10 years ago.

Perhaps it is to do with the time – the beginning another day, like so many countless others . . . and yet unique like each shell on the beach, but this is a time I find it hard not to be philosophical, to think thoughts that are usually crowded out by the consuming clutter of the everyday.  Perhaps that is what draws me back to the beach at sunrise – when I need to look inside myself, as well as at the awesome display of another sunrise, another blessing of “Living Loreto”!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Glimpse of Loreto's History

Following the last several weeks of socializing, numerous parties and celebrations, when I saw a notice that the Loreto Historical Society was sponsoring a lecture “Loreto, Gateway to Alta California – The Expedition to San Diego, 1769” by a friend of mine, Tom Woodard, I decided to take in the event.

First of all, I was not aware that there WAS a Loreto Historical Society, but I was interested in what Tom would have to say on a topic that I wanted to know more about.  I did have a very basic understanding of the historic role that Loreto had played as the home of the first Jesuit Mission in all of the Baja founded in 1697, and that how from here, over time, there had developed a chain of Missions the length of the peninsula and beyond, into what is now Northern California. 

So I headed into town, one early evening this week, to the Caballo Blanco Bookstore, where the lecture was to take place.  This store is a fixture in downtown Loreto, owned and operated by Alberto and Jennine, long time residents of Loreto, and they cater to a mainly English speaking clientele with a wonderful collection of reading materials in their homey and colorful shop. With big windows overlooking one of the main streets in town, the front room, with it’s thatched roof, is lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves crammed with hundreds and hundreds of new and used paperbacks of every description.

Behind that room is another that is stocked with  more new editions, making up an impressive collection of books on various subjects mainly relating to the Baja in general, and anything to do with Loreto in particular.  Further back in the room are colorful examples of Jenina’s other avocation as an artist in several media, making Caballo Blanco both a literary and artistic focal point for the surrounding community.

On this evening, when I arrived about 20 minutes before the lecture was to start, the front room was filled to capacity with more than 50 still empty chairs.  In the back room half a dozen people were visiting and I was able to browse through the book that the evening´s presentation was based on and learn something more about it from Alberto.  I then made my way to a side room where I spoke with Tom, who was going to be doing the lecture, and got a brief preview of some of the fascinating history described in the book.

Noticing that the chairs were starting to fill up quickly, now that it was getting close to the start time, I made my way back to the back room and bought one of the several copies they had available of the book for myself and then found a seat in what would soon be a standing room only turn out.  In the crowd I was pleased to see a number of familiar faces from Loreto Bay, as well as many more from the ex-pat community in and around Loreto itself.

 Tom began the evening with a brief introduction to the Loreto Historical Society, which is now in it’s formative stages, but has ambitious goals including acquiring Casa de Pedra, a landmark stone building just half a block from where we were sitting, which is one of the oldest private buildings in the town dating back to 1808, and ultimately converting it into a Visitor Center. 

On a more philosophical note, Tom made an eloquent case for the importance of celebrating the unique and historic role that Loreto has played in the development of the Baja and Western North America, and how, by using this history, we can promote and spread the word about Loreto and ultimately attract more visitors to this special place.

Tom then began with a detailed and enthusiastic summary of the book (Gateway to Alta California, the Expedition to San Diego, 1767 by Harry W, Crosby, Sunbelt Publications) which he considers one of the best on the subject of early Loreto and Baja history.  The book is divided into two parts, the beginnings of Loreto and the early presence of Spain in the Baja, followed by the incredible journey from Loreto north the length of the peninsula to Ensenada and beyond to San Diego.

One of the most striking facts that he quoted from the book was the extreme difficulty the early Spanish explorers had just crossing the Sea of Cortez to the Baja from the mainland.  For example, on November 30th, 1767 the first direct representative of the Spanish Government arrived in California (as the Baja was then called) in over 30 years. 

That voyage had first started five months earlier in July from San Blas, a port on the mainland about 300 miles to the south east of San Jose del Cabo, where they eventually made landfall, but this first attempt was turned back after only a few days by storms.  A second attempt at the crossing was made in late August which encountered a chubasco (or violent storm) that forced them back again by the first week of September.  The third (and ultimately successful) attempt set out October 19th and took 40 days to make the crossing.  Although their destination had originally been Loreto, when the expedition finally made it onto dry land on the southeastern tip of the peninsula, they decided to cover the remaining 250+ miles to Loreto overland, which took another 10 to 12 days of hard travel by horseback.

Driven by the agenda of the Spanish Government in New Spain (Mexico) that in turn took it’s orders from the Spanish King, this was the beginning of momentous times in Loreto’s history.  For mainly European geo-political reasons, the Jesuits, who had founded the first Mission here 70 years before, had fallen out of Royal favor in Spain and it was decreed that they were to be replaced with Franciscans. 

Then there was to be a mobilization of all of the meager resources available from the dozen missions that had been established during that time in the southern half of the Baja began and a major expedition was to be planned to travel by land up the peninsula through “terra incognita” all the way to present day San Diego, California, a distance of approximately 450 miles, much of it across the brutally rugged mountainous spine of the peninsula during a seven week period in the spring of 1769.

This meticulously remarkably researched book contains first-hand accounts of this trek, day by day, including detailed maps and even photographs taken by the author, who had remarkably travelled over 600 miles by burro retracing the course of the journey as part of his research for the book.  This 1769 Expedition was a truly epic undertaking at the time, with dozens of men, almost two hundred animals carrying tons of supplies, and a herd of cattle to sustain the company, all travelling hundreds of miles over some of the harshest and most barren territory imaginable. 

Amongst the many challenges, one of the most critical was the search for water en route, and often required the daily of digging water holes in the rocky arroyos to collect what ground water they could find.  This search for water also forced their route to pass through mainly mountainous terrain where scarce water could be found, rather than the more easily traversed coastal area that was more arid.  Progress became easier when they reached Ensenada on the west coast of the peninsula, about 100 miles south of the modern border, and from there the remainder of the journey to San Diego took them just over a week.       

The purpose of this expedition was to lay claim, in the name of the Spanish crown, to what is now California, and elements of this force eventually travelled as far north as San Francisco – truly a monumental endeavor that changed the future course of the history of western North America.  And it all began in what was then a tiny settlement here in Loreto!  No wonder those of us lucky enough to have found this special place and call it home, feel that it is privilege to be “Living Loreto”!