Sunday, March 25, 2012

Food, Wine & Fun - Charity begins at Home!

Because you can’t be in two places at once, while I was back in Canada visiting recently I missed, what by all reports, was a highlight event of the season, the first annual Loreto Bay Food & Wine Festival.  With input and co-operation from some of the organizers including Janice, Joani, & Rodolfo and great pictures from Al Graichen, I have done my best to piece together the following piece “in absentia”, but I promise that I will be in attendance for next year´s event which is already in the planning phase.

On Saturday morning the west side of the  main Paseo was closed and volunteers were kept busy setting up food stations for the eleven participating Restaurants, most of them from the town but also including ones from here in Loreto Bay and also the surrounding area.  A large stage was set up across the north end of the street with an open area for dancing and several hundred chairs with tables filled the remainder of the street for several blocks.

In the morning Vive Loreto was offering tours to the San Javier Mission and Coronado Island, and although the day started out quite windy, these tours were popular.  The official program began at 3:30 pm with opening remarks by a representative of the Mayor of Loreto, the Festival Committee and the HOA Administrator.  Over 350 wristband passes had been sold at $400 pesos ($30 USD) and included access to all of the food booths for generous “taster” samples of house specialties as well as a commemorative tote bag, T-shirt and logoed wine glass souvenirs and coupons from participating restaurants.  In addition, there were almost 100 passes sold for the entertainment without access to the food.

The exclusive wine supplier for this year’s Festival was LA Ceto and they sold wine by the glass and bottle, and Pacifico supplied beer for sale as well.  One of the other events was the selection of a signature cocktail for Loreto Bay, and taste samples were given out of a variety of concoctions and people voted for their favorite.  The winning drink was the “Loreto Bay Cooler” a combination of Tequilla, Lime and Beer entered by Ulises, proprietor of the Fresh Market, demonstrating his talents for more than just the fruit and vegetable food groups!  During the event there was also a busy silent auction with many tempting donations that attracted generous bids, all of which went toward the fundraising goal.

 Following the opening ceremonies Baja Sounds, a 12 piece Cuban Salsa Band from La Paz got the crowd on its feet and dancing which carried on for the rest of the evening. When they took a break, Loreto Bay’s own Los Beach Dogs provided a very popular set with a few of the salsa musicians sitting in before the big band returned to play well into the night and keep the dancing going!

Before the main food tasting began there was a special “appetizer” offered.  A local school teacher, Justino Arce is duly famous for his Tatemada Clams made with the local “Chocolata” species.  He has a side-line making theses local delicacies  for parties and other special events – including preparing clams for President Bush Sr. and he has travelled to Mexico City several times to prepare this specialty for several Mexican Presidents! An auspicious beginning for the gourmet treats to come!

 When the rest of the food booths were opened a long line quickly formed.  Although there was plenty of food available to go around, grouping all the booths together lead to a sort of “cafeteria” model with one long line up while people filed past each booth in turn getting their samples.  One of the changes planned for next year will be to separate the food booths and distribute them throughout the dining area of the Festival so that the Guests can choose which of the restaurants they want to sample and in which order so everyone will not be forced to visit the booths in the same order. 

On the Sunday there was a well attended Golf Tournament associated with the Festival, casual and fun in spirit, a good time was had by all, including “duffers” and the day was capped off by a steak BBQ hosted by the Inn at Loreto Bay, with half of the proceeds from the tournament going towards the fundraising goal.

Speaking of fundraising, that was as successful as the whole event had been – with over $10,000 USD raised from the many sources and the once optimistic goal of purchasing a new 12 lead EKG for the Loreto Hospital was accomplished, along with sufficient funds available for the necessary training of the staff to use it.  In addition, contributions were also made to the Loreto Optimists Club, La Mission Loreto, and a local children’s baseball league.

In light of the level of success achieved, with a very short planning phase, and the efforts of over 30 Homeowner volunteers along with contributions of materials and labor from a number of local businesses and the staff of our HOA, plans are already underway for the second annual event!  Next year the dates will be March 22 – 24 and the organizers are already planning on setting up a non-profit Foundation to provide full financial transparency and also permit them to give “facturas” or receipts for tax purposes to businesses making contributions.

One of the most significant developments in our community this winter has been the continued development of a strong volunteer/charitable culture among Homeowners.  There have been organized efforts benefiting the Internado (residence) School in town as well as Anamalandia spay and neuter clinics and this contribution of state of the art diagnosis equipment to the local Hospital is yet another example of how Loreto Bay is working to improve the quality of life for everyone in the Loreto area.  This seems only fitting after all, because of the way that this place has improved the quality of life for so many of us who are making a new home here.

Having a party for almost 500 people, sharing the best of what the local restaurants have to offer, enjoying live music and dancing under the stars in the center of our growing community – at the same time as we raise thousands of dollars for important medical equipment that will improve health care for the extended community – it doesn’t get much better than this when you are “Living Loreto”!

If you want more information on next year´s event follow this website:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thoughts on returning to Loreto Bay

After spending a week back in Canada I returned to my home in Loreto Bay a few days ago.  While the trip itself was uneventful, (which I think is the best one can hope for with air travel these days), it gave me some time sitting around in airports waiting for connections, to think about the differences between the life I used to know in a city of over a million people in Western Canada and the life I now lead in a town of about 15,000 in the southern Baja peninsula.

While weather is one of the first things that come to mind, I arrived in Calgary to -5 degrees Celsius (about 30 degrees F.) with a fresh layer of snow from a storm I had just missed, I was lucky that most of the week was unseasonably mild, by whatever passes for normal in these days of weird weather.  The traffic congestion, rush hours, and parking were all issues that I had to re-adapt to – but I don’t think I will ever get used to paying $6.00 an hour to park downtown for an appointment!

Reading a daily newspaper used to be a regular habit when I lived there, but strangely, although I had initially looked forward to getting back into that routine, I found myself only mildly interested in the national and local reporting and eventually wound up feeling somewhat depressed by the mainly bad news that seemed to make up most of the paper’s content.  I did find the coverage of the local NHL Hockey franchise of more interest, but overall I realized that even a former “news junkie” like me had lost my appetite for a daily fix of newsprint journalism.

Although at home in Loreto I have access to the same satellite service I would watch back in Canada, including 24 hour cable news, this visit reminded me how we manage to live our lives in Loreto without the obsessive compulsion about the 24 hour news cycle that seems to pervade the attention of many people in North America.  For example, I think you would have to ask a lot of people on the streets of Loreto before you would get the right answer to what the current price of a barrel of oil is.  Perhaps, in part, because gasoline prices in Mexico are not market driven but controlled by the state run monopoly Pemex and are currently about 60% of the $1.15 per litre I paid last week in Canada (about equal to $4.35 US / gal.).   

Although I didn’t do much shopping during this short visit, I did have a few items on my list including magazines, toiletries, vitamins and over the counter medications, but while I was away I received a few emails from friends in Loreto who requested I bring back some hard to find items like spices and bike parts.  This reminded me of the very definite limits there are on the availability of many everyday products in Loreto, a shortage that one quickly gets used to when living there. 

However, I realized that the easy retail access to almost anything one can imagine, that one takes for granted in a major metropolitan city, comes at a price – and that price includes what appears to an “outsider” to be a preoccupation with shopping, as evidenced by acres of congested parking surrounding gigantic malls and big box centers everywhere you go.  Which got me thinking about what we do in Loreto with all the time we save by NOT shopping, perhaps walking on the beach, playing another round of golf, visiting with friends at the coffee shop or around the pool – more than a fair exchange for the lack of some consumer goods, in my mind!

My visit to Calgary did include a number of meals in restaurants with friends and family, which made clear another big difference between living in Loreto and any big city in North America – the price of eating out is double, or more, the price for a comparable meal in Loreto.  But the comparison goes beyond just eating out – although I did not do much grocery shopping while I was away, I did enough that I was reminded of the “sticker shock” I have experienced in the past when I see basic things like chickens and other grocery staples at more than double the price I am used to in Mexico.  And don’t get me started on buying beer – at more than double the price I pay (gladly!) in Loreto!

 And then I arrived in LAX! 

When I wrote above that my trip was “uneventful”, that was perhaps wishful thinking during the first leg of the journey.  Arriving from Seattle at LAX, I made my way through long tunnels to the baggage claim area just about the time that the luggage started to tumble out onto the carousel, and, as luck would have it (or so I thought) my bag was one of the first ones out.  So far, so good, and I made my way outside the Terminal across several lanes of traffic to an island loading area designated for Hotel Shuttles to wait for a bus to my Hotel, and wait, and wait . . .

After I started seeing several of the shuttles from the same nearby Hotels cruising past for the third time I decided that I needed to contact the Hotel I had reserved at and find out what had happened to theirs.  Using my phone, I searched for a contact number (there wasn´t one on my confirmation form) and finally reached someone at an 800 line who called the Hotel for me and had them dispatch the bus to eventually pick me up.

The less said about the Hotel when I finally arrived the better – and the next morning when I returned to the Terminal for the final leg back to Loreto it was, in a word, “challenging”.  From my arrival at the check in area and serpentining my way through the maze of dozens of other Alaska passengers to drop my bag with one of the THREE agents on duty, and then to be subjected to the latest level of scrutiny by Homeland “Insecurity”, it took over an hour before I reached the relative sanctuary of the shabby, overcrowded, Alaska Airlines departure area.

Once there, the one “decent” restaurant had a long lineup (of course) and when I asked the “hostess” I was informed that at 10:00 am they had stopped serving breakfast and only the lunch menu was available.  So my alternative for breakfast was a greasy burger-chain “croissantwich” of dry sausage and a patty of something resembling egg, chased down with a steaming cup of tasteless watery coffee – yes, they really have managed to eliminate almost all of the pleasures once associated with commercial air travel!  (No wonder the nostalgic fascination with the retro “Pan Am” series now on television, as we pine for the good old days!)

In the interest of being fair and balanced, I will report that several places in the Alaska departure area there were signs announcing that the Airline was going to be moving to Terminal 6 on March 25th – and while it goes without saying that ANYTHING will be an improvement, it is perhaps fair to assume that they have been letting their current facilities deteriorate in anticipation of this impending move.  So perhaps there are better days to come in the not-so-friendly-skies of Alaska Airlines!

One of the compensations of flying back to Loreto is the fact that there are always other Homeowners on the same flight and we tend to meet and greet each other like classmates at a sort of “residential reunion”, among the hundreds of other anonymous Alaska passengers waiting in the departure area.  Once I finally did get on board the 80 passenger turbo-prop that services our destination I was lucky enough to have beside me one of the only two vacant seats on the plane (note to Alaska Airlines – we need bigger planes on this flight!) and I enjoyed the aerial view of the Baja, picking out several landmarks familiar from my drives up and down the peninsula.

The approach to Loreto by air is always a special experience as the flight path from the north passes over the town and out over the Sea of Cortez, before “fish hooking” around for a fly past of the shoreline of the Loreto Bay development before landing, which is why I prefer sitting on the left side of the plane when possible.  Arrival in the still new feeling Terminal in Loreto had a real sense of homecoming and the Immigration and Customs formalities were dispensed with in a reasonably efficient manner, which made the delicious moment of stepping out of the Terminal, into the warm sunny weather, make the past 30 hours of travel trials all of a sudden seem like a fair price to pay for being here!

Once again, this recent trip has proved the truth of the old saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  I will confess that after a period of time living here, I can sometimes begin to get frustrated with some of the day to day realities of life, but I always return with a renewed appreciation of the beauty of the surroundings and the sense of community that makes this such a special place – and that is why I feel so lucky to be back, “Living Loreto”!              

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Whale of a Tale!

This week finds me back in Canada visiting family and friends, I guess it is sort of my version of Spring Break - in reverse!  But actually my timing has been very fortunate, just a couple of days before I arrived here there was one of the worst storms and cold snaps of this winter and while I arrived to chilly -5 degree temps and a fresh layer of snow, since then things have become quite mild and "spring" like - relatively speaking! 

But I am looking forward to getting back to my home in Loreto later this week and one advantage of this return to a northern climate is a renewed appreciation of how ideal the climate is in the Baja at this time of year as the temperatures start to climb and the winds shift from the north to the south, bringing warmer gentler evenings and early mornings.

Because I am away this weekend it gives me an opportunity to provide you, my loyal readers, with a special Guest Blog, written by a friend and fellow Homeowner who just returned north after a 3 week stay in Loreto Bay.  Speaking with them just before they left, they told me of an amazing experience they had just had whale watching in Magdalena Bay on the west coast of the penninsula.  When I heard their story my reaction was "that would make a great Guest Blog" - and, much to my delight, they agreed that they would put their story down to share with all of you.

So here is a wonderful story about one of the iconic experiences of this magical part of the world - this season has been remarkable for the number and frequency of whale contacts on the west coast in particular, and this story is a great description of a day the author will never forget:

Serendipity is such a cool word, it means "pleasant surprise", or "happy accident" and that is exactly what happened on our latest Loreto adventure.

You hear people talk about whale "watching" a lot, you know, "let's go see the whales" but you don't hear many people say they have "played" with the whales, but that's what fantastically happened to us on our trip to Puerto Lopez Mateo 2 weeks ago.

But first the serendipity part, because that is what led to this unbelievable experience. I wanted an oil change and a check of the other fluids before I drove my family through the mountains to the Magdalena Bay area to see the whales. "No problem señor, 1 hour" I was told. I waited for it; it would only be an hour. Then: "Oh señor, your transmission fluid is very dirty", "its dangerous señor", OK I said, let's change it. "No problem señor." Well there was a problem. It took 3 hours because even though he assured me he had a gasket to replace the one in my transmission pan, he didn't. It took all day to replace the fluid. At one time there must have been 6 guys “working” on my car but that meant a lot of standing around watching one other guy do most of the work.

I knew my brakes were not great because the pedal would go all the way to the floor before grabbing, so I mentioned this to the mechanic as well because I had to drive through the curves in the mountains which would be nuts without decent brakes. He pulled the rear wheels and sure enough the pads we very low, "dangerous señor." OK, can you fix them, I asked naively? You guessed it, "1 hour señor." Well through a series of miscommunications, mistakes, mishaps and general mayhem the car was in the "shop" for 3 days. The lack of a vehicle threatened to scuttle our planned whale "watching" trip.

Frustrated, I made a last minute evening call to Raffa at Vive Loreto to see if he could take the 4 of us on an unscheduled trip in his van to Lopez Mateo. I was anxious to go because our daughter and her boyfriend from Canada were visiting and this was certainly a "must see" for them. Raffa (actually his wife Maria) agreed and off we went at 7 the next morning.

The ride up there was a revelation for me.  I am always behind the wheel when we drive that stretch of road which means that I don't get to look around very much. About the only scenery the driver gets to see are the unnerving roadside shrines and the odd stray cow. That's it! Focus! Focus! But in the van I could look around and take in the fantastic landscape, the rock formations and the striking beauty of the valleys. The way the low cloud plays with the mountain tops. I had not appreciated any of this before.

But we got so lucky when we arrived in Lopez Mateo.

We went whale watching at about this time of year last year; the wind was blowing, it was cold and there were choppy waves to fight through. Our boat chased every sighting of a whale, usually followed by a half dozen other blue boats. Our little flotilla was in the north end of the channel; very near the entrance to the Pacific, because that’s where everyone thought the most whales would be. We came close to some whales and we were thrilled with the outing. Cold but thrilled nonetheless.

But this day was ideal. Warm, sunny, flat water, no wind. Perfect.

Once we were aboard our panga, Raffa and the captain decided to head south and not take the usual route north of the jetty. They thought, correctly, that the water was warmer and calmer than anywhere else. We were alone down there, no other boats on flat water. We quickly spotted a gray whale and sped over there. When we got close we stopped the boat and just bobbed along, and that's when the fun really began.

A mother whale swooped under the boat just inches from us followed by her baby. That was thrilling enough, but then Mom literally lifted the baby whale on her nose out of the water and pushed it toward the boat. She was showing us her baby! That started 20 minutes of unbelievable contact with these wild creatures. The baby would put her body right alongside the boat, we would reach out at touch it, stroke its nose and head, and we even got sprayed by a fishy smelling mist of wet breath as it came alongside. We were in awe at being so close to these magnificent animals.

We drifted away from these two only to encounter another pair right away. This Mom had a different personality, she wouldn't push her calf at us, she waited patiently while her little (!?) one became gradually more confident and cautiously at first approached our boat. Once the baby realized we were friendly, it repeatedly came to our boat. It pushed its head out of the water so we could rub its face and body; it loved the contact and so did we. Over and over this huge gray baby whale played with us. Around and under the boat, poking its head up to our gunwales, allowing us to touch its rubbery skin, while Mom stayed close by. It was eerie that we could look directly into the eye of the whale as it floated next to us.

You had to wonder what it was thinking as it looked at these black eyed (sunglasses) beings that floated on the surface. People travel the world to see iconic species, whether its lions and elephants in Africa or polar bears in the Arctic, but here we were, literally face to face with this ancient species in our own back yard. We were petting wild animals in the sea. We felt humbled by their attention, and absolutely exalted by the once in a lifetime experience. You can see a video of our fun with the whales put together by my daughter’s boyfriend Ashley on YouTube titled “Whale Watching in Mexico.”

I also think we might have invented a new drinking game. Take a swig every time someone in the group says "unbelievable", you won’t stay on your feet for long!

To cap off this incredible day, we beached the boat on the sand of the island and ran barefoot through the warm sand dunes to the top of the ridge. We could see the Pacific across the island, another amazing landscape to add to our mental library of unforgettable sights. 

The drive home was quiet, everyone I’m sure reflecting on the special day and our unique place in this world.

So I guess I have to thank that “no problem senor” mechanic for taking so long with my car, if he hadn't we might not have had a chance to “play” with the whales.

As the van entered cell phone range just outside Nopolo, I noticed a message on my phone. It was from the mechanic.

“Your car is ready senor.”


You gotta love this place.

Amen to that!  Below is a link to the video that was referred to above, be patient, its over 10 minutes long and takes a little while to load - but I assure you it is well worth it!  Thanks again to Dave, my Guest Blogger, (many are asked, but few deliver!) and his story about how an oil change changed his life - another unexpected aspect of "Living Loreto"!  

Click on this link below to watch an amazing video about this adventure!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Positively Shocking Addition to Loreto Bay!

During the recent HOA sub-regime Annual General Meetings there was a brief presentation by Marybeth, a Homeowner, regarding a recent purchase by the HOA, funded out of last year´s budget, of an AED, or Automatic External Defibrillator, the Zoll AED Plus.  In layman´s terms, an AED is used in the event of cardiac arrest to guide even non-professional rescuers through an appropriate first-aid response up to, but not necessarily including, delivering a series of defibrillating shocks to the patient.

I was interested in this story and later met with the two Homeowners who Doug, a retired Doctor and Marybeth, a critical care and ER nurse in Washington state.  These two got together over a year ago to talk about their shared concerns regarding emergency medical capabilities here in Loreto. 

As I have written about in these pages before (Loreto´s Maestro Limpio, April 2010) although there is a relatively new Hospital here in Loreto its capabilities are more equivalent to a walk-in clinic in most major centers in North America.  While these facilities are adequate for “first aid” like simple broken bones, cuts, etc. Marybeth and Doug were concerned with what would happen in the event of a life threatening crisis, given the demographics of Loreto Bay and the fact that the longer term residents are retirement age and beyond.

At the top of their priority list was one of these increasingly popular defibrillators that can be used, with a minimum of training, by non-medical personnel.  They then approached Jorge, the HOA Administrator, and determined that there were sufficient funds set aside in the HOA budget for the purchase of such equipment and so now this potentially life-saving technology is available on site here in Loreto Bay.

Plans are still being developed, but several goals have been identified; training and certifying the Security Staff on the operation of the AED equipment and CPR, as well as making hands on training available for Homeowners, ensuring that there is at least one English speaking Security person available 24 hours a day, and establishing an emergency procedure with clear specific information on what to do in the event of Loreto Bay resident experiencing such a medical emergency. 

This information will be distributed in some convenient form, possibly a fridge magnet or card that will be distributed to each home in the development, and can be easily referred to if necessary.  Although all of the details have yet to be worked out, the general idea will be that we can call Security in an emergency and they will contact the Bomberos, or Ambulance service in Loreto, and co-ordinate with them the directions to locate where the patient is.  Meanwhile, Security staff will bring the AED to the resident´s home and will be trained to perform CPR, and, if necessary, defibrillation until the Ambulance and EMT arrives.         

Once the patient has been transported to the local Hospital stabilization and further assessment become the priority, which brings us to the next item on the wish list.  Currently there is a very basic “three lead” EKG machine at the Hospital, but for a useful assessment a “twelve lead” machine is required and fund raising is already underway for the purchase of one to loan to the Hospital.
One obvious benefit of being able to conduct a more thorough assessment of this kind is to be able to make better decisions about what the next best course of action is for a patient, either transfer by Ambulance to larger Hospitals in Constitution (1 ½ hours) or La Paz (3 ½ hours) or the option of air medi-vac back to the US or Canada, which can be covered by specific insurance policies.

In my conversation with Marybeth she also had some common sense suggestions which will probably be included in a future information package that is also in the planning stages.  First of all, it is a good idea for us all to consider what we would do in an emergency situation, who we would call and what we would do – an emergency plan for the house.  She also suggested that we could independently arrange a sort of “buddy” system so we would have a “medical advocate” who could accompany us and would be looking out for our best interests in the event we were unable to.

She also stressed the advantage of knowing someone who was fluent in Spanish, who could be called upon to assist if we were admitted for care, because, while some Doctors can speak English the rest of the medical staff will likely not.  Along these lines, another piece of equipment that is a high priority is a Spanish/English medical translation device, similar to a cell phone that you can speak into in English and it will talk back in Spanish, and vice versa – and I thought Star Trek was sci-fi!

Another excellent piece of advice, particularly for those of us who are spending extended stays here, is to have a conversation with your regular physician at home about the fact that you spend this period of time in a remote location with relatively few medical resources, so as to better understand the possible implications that could have, given your particular medical history – what risk factors to watch for and danger signs to be aware of.  Ideally, to set up a relationship with your established medical contacts at home so that, in the event of a change or other circumstance occurring while you are here, you can call upon them for advice or a second opinion, so as to be better able to make the appropriate decisions.

The topic of this Blog is of a more serious nature than most of my postings, and I must emphasize my absolute lack of qualifications to offer ANY sort of medical advice, but I think that these sort of discussions are, and will become increasingly important, as our community grows – and ages.  So I thought that it was appropriate to recognize the efforts of two of our Homeowners, Marybeth and Doug, in making the first steps toward establishing these priorities, and our Administrator Jorge, in beginning to develop a Community emergency plan.

As I write this, I am struck by how much more remains to be done in this area, and also how important it is that a beginning has been made!  I know that there are a significant number of Health Professionals who are members of our community, and there are obviously opportunities for more people to get involved as this vital process evolves.  As a first step, I would direct anyone who is interested in contacting Jorge at the Associa Office to find out how they can volunteer or make a contribution to health and welfare of our Community.

Seeing members of our Community stepping forward to begin to develop an emergency response plan for all of us, is a sign that we are moving together from the early stage of Loreto Bay as a paradise get-away, to the reality of life here on a long term basis – and what could be more important to any of us than that - when “Living Loreto”!          

Find out more about the new AED equipment including a training video:

Contact Jorge at Associa for more information on how you can get involved:
Associa Mexico, Loreto Bay: