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”!