Sunday, April 29, 2012

In Memoriam

This week Living Loreto lost one of its most loyal readers - in fact I can say with certainty that she read my first posting in November of '08 and never missed one until last weekend.  My mother Alison passed away last Saturday at the fine age of 96 and her life ended with the gentle grace with which she had lived.

Alison loved Loreto, I happy to say that she visited me there twice.  She was our first visitor, along with my wife's Mother, at Christmas 2005, within a month of us taking possession of our home when there were only a couple of neighbours surrounding us in the first homes to be completed in the development.

Some of the highlights of that first visit was one of my first trips to San Javier, a sightseeing trip to Puerto Escondido spending time on the beach and around the pool at the Inn at Loreto Bay.  There were restaurant dinners in town and even the wedding of two friends from Calgary, on their first stay in their new home, the first Homeowners wedding to be celebrated in Loreto Bay!

On her second visit in February of 2009, accompanied by my sister Janice and her husband Tom, she marvelled at how much had changed in the four years since her first visit.  What had been a small cluster of completed houses, surrounded by the dust and confusion of construction had literally blossomed into a beautifully landscaped oasis with almost 400 homes connected by winding pathways and populated by hundreds of Homeowners and Visitors.  A vision that was held by a few hardy pioneers had turned into a real community that was continuing to evolve.

The scantily furnished house that we had just moved into for her first visit had become a comfortable home and almost all surrounding construction had been completed, so that the peaceful days were not interrupted by the noise and dust that had been part of the environment for the first few years.  As exciting as that first Christmas had been, it was gratifying to be able to show her what the (almost) finished community looked like - what had started out as our dream had become something even better in reality.

On her second visit I was now a "resident" and now able to show her "my" town of Loreto, taking her to my favorite places and introducing her to my growing circle of friends who live there; as opposed to the "tourist" I still was on her first visit.  Another big difference was the growth of the plants and trees
in the gardens and courtyard -but even more impressive was the growing landscaping bordering the homes and pathways stretching for acres around us.

I know that some of Mother's strongest impressions of Loreto were from the skies above.  I remember walking from my house down to the beach with her at sunset one evening when there was some high cloud cover and the entire sky was pastel pink from the light cast by the sun setting behind the mountains.  It felt like we were standing inside a giant Conch shell, bathed in a pink mother of pearl glow.  She could never get over the night sky in Loreto as well.  She had never seen so many stars so close before, so much so that it was almost frightening to her - if it hadn't been so breathtakingly beautiful!

I remember taking her whale watching to Magdelena Bay on that second trip - this was a 93 year old woman out on an open panga boat on a windy day chasing whales and watching the mothers play with their babies just feet from our boat - with a smile on her face as she was sprayed with seawater.

With all the memories of my Mother's visits to Loreto, what stands out most to me is that, having been there, she understood why I loved it so much, and why I wanted so much to call it my home.  Even more importantly it was OK with her that I have spent most of the past five years thousands of kilometers away - as long as when I wasn't in Loreto, I was spending time with her in Calgary.

So I am dedicating this Blog to my Mother Alison, my first, and always most loyal reader - I phoned her on Skype every Sunday morning, right after I published that week's posting, and usually we talked about what I had written, but I tried to keep some of the story back so she could read it fresh, which she did every week when that call was over. 

I won't be making that call this Sunday, so I am dedicating this Blog posting to her memory -

Via con Dios, Alison


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Visit to El Juncalito

Although this Blog is titled “Living Loreto”, when the opportunity presents, I like to write about some of the locations and lifestyles in the areas surrounding Loreto and Loreto Bay.  One of those opportunities occurred this past week, when I was invited to join some friends in EL Juncalito, a small beach settlement 10 km south of Loreto Bay, between here and the marina at Puerto Escondido.

Juncalito is located on a beautiful bay with a crescent beach and was originally was home to a small fishing community.  Decades ago, Gringos travelling in RVs and Trailers started to settle around the beach, renting space from the local Mexicans who lived in the community.  Like many large areas in Mexico, surrounding Juncalito is Ejido land.

I do not claim expertise in the legal nuances of Mexican Real Estate law, but for the purposes of this story, Ejido land is a form of communal property available to local residents who can trace their heritage back to that location.  A qualified Mexican citizen can occupy Ejido land but they do not hold individual title to the land.  However, in this case they are able to rent pads on that land to foreigners to park their trailers on long term leases, which is how this area has developed into a community that combines Mexicans and ex-pats.

Over the years many of these trailers and fifth-wheels have been surrounded by and built into thatched roof pergolas shading outdoor patios and living areas some even have bricked additions.  With no local electricity lines these homes run on solar charged batteries, most with a generator back up, and they use bottled propane for appliances.  Water is piped to the home sites and, typical here in Mexico, stored in roof cisterns as a reservoir and to add pressure.  Sewage is handled through septic fields or holding tanks.

There are also a few waterfront lots that are on Federal beach land that, due to their proximity to the shore, are governed by more rigorous Federal regulations, specifically – no permanent structures including concrete foundations.  In the case of one of my friend’s situations, they have a 35 foot fifth-wheel literally feet from the high water line with a outdoor patio/living area on an un-mortared brick floor, under a sheet metal half roof supported by several wood pillars which were set in the gravel beach in buried 50 gallon drums that were filled with concrete.  This “temporary” foundation provided a very substantial support for the structure, but could be removed, when necessary, without a trace.

Although I had driven through Juncalito several times in the past, and frequently I would see it from the highway as I approached Loreto Bay from the south, I had never known anyone who lived there before until recently, when a friend moved off his live-aboard boat and into an existing fifth-wheel.  He, in turn, introduced me to another “Juncalitoite” which resulted in an invitation to a “fish fry” earlier this week.  Following his simple directions I easily located his trailer/pergola and met his wife on their open air patio I described above.  A couple of other guests had arrived ahead of me and soon we were all chatting happily over drinks on the patio, enjoying the stunning water views, in fact, in this location, there was nothing BUT water views!

This crescent beach has been a fishing village for generations and now sport fishing has become the main activity.  There is a small church as well as the semi-permanent RVs, a cluster of transient RVs at the south end of the beach with no services, and the permanent homes of the Mexican “landlords” which are generally located further away from the water.  While I had initially assumed that this was because the proximity to the water made the small RV lots more desirable for lease, I gathered during my conversations that evening that another reason that the Mexicans generally live further from the water may also be due to risk of storm surge in the event of tropical storms or even hurricanes.

As the afternoon faded into the evening more people dropped in on my hosts, usually carrying some liquid refreshment (spiced rum & coke seemed to be the beverages of choice) and when there were eight to ten of us visiting around the patio it was time to start the fish fry.  On an outdoor propane burner, next to a pair of serious looking BBQ grills, oil was heated in a large sauce pan fitted with a matching strainer.  The freshly caught fish filets were dipped in an egg based batter and then coated with empanizado crumbs before being fried quickly to a tender golden brown.  Pan after pan of these filets were cooked, kept warm on the nearby grill, until a platter of perfectly cooked fish was ready to serve.  Accompanied by a big bowl of freshly made coleslaw, it made a delicious meal.

As I was sitting on this simple patio, hung with bird feeders that were attracting literally dozens of humming birds, gazing across a picturesque bay towards rocky offshore islands – mere feet from the high water mark, surrounded with new friends who made me feel welcome, sharing their food and stories, I knew I was experiencing another “Blog moment”.  But beyond the spectacular setting and good company I was struck by both the differences and similarities between this lifestyle and the one I am used to in Loreto Bay, just 10 km up the highway.

While the differences were apparent, these people lived a much simpler lifestyle in their RVs and Palapas, no cell phone service, adequate but limited electricity, basic plumbing and no broadcast TV or internet – except for a few who have started using HughesNet for satellite internet.  However, every one of them probably had as good (or better) water views as million dollar homes a few miles away.  The similarities were even more striking. 

These people love where they lived every bit as much as my friends and neighbors do up the highway –and they share many of the same frustrations that are part and parcel of living here in Mexico, as well as minor disputes and disagreements with neighbors. That evening I heard conversations about planned renovations and additions that – but for the type of home – were familiar topics in Loreto Bay among homeowners. 

However, as a Loreto Bay “outsider”, I sensed good natured rivalry in some of the comments directed toward the community where I lived, which didn’t surprise me.  I understand that our pastel hued community, bordered by lush fairways and gardens could be an easy “target”, particularly for people who have never spent an evening visiting in Loreto Bay, as I was doing in Juncalito.  I must also say that I have heard comments about Juncalito from people who live in Loreto Bay, that while different in nature, were very similar in tone to what I heard that evening. 

And so I realized that while there are many ways for Foreigners to live here, and that we can easily make assumptions (and poke fun at) those who have chosen a different path, we all have far more in common, in spite of whatever differences there may be, than it would appear from the way we may live – and that is a lesson I will remember, while “Living Loreto”.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Community Palapa - the new "heart" of Loreto Bay

This past week there was an event here in Loreto Bay that combined the “grand opening” of a new amenity in the development, an opportunity for Homeowners to get together in numbers as this winter season is drawing to a close and an excellent excuse for a performance by Loreto Bay’s favorite band – Los Beach Dogs.

My home is located in the first cluster to be developed here in Loreto Bay, it was completed in late 2005 – among the first few homes to be finished in the development which now has over 550 completed homes.  Adjacent to my home is a large triangular area that is common property within the Condominium plan and originally it was the location of a Bocce Court, which was basically a regulation sized rectangle, edged with bricks and filled with clay.  Although it was used occasionally, raking and maintaining the playing surface was necessary for a proper game and as a result it fell into disuse most of the time and, since it was mainly surrounded by open sandy ground, on windy days it contributed to the dust that blows around.

Over the past couple of years each of the sub-regimes within the overall Condominium have taken responsibility for completing and upgrading the landscaping within their areas, with the result that one of the most striking and beautiful aspects of our community are these garden spaces and courtyards that surround our homes and border the pathways in between them.  After completing most of the landscaping within our sub-regime it was decided by our Sub Regime’s committee of Homeowner volunteers that the area occupied by the Bocce Court could be put to better use and beautified if the space was redesigned as a meeting place for the whole community.

Peter Boddy of PJB Studio ( contributed his design skills to the project and work commenced this Fall on the first phase, a decorative curved bench/wall at the north end of the area to separate it from the Golf Course’s 9th green and screen off several electrical utility boxes.  Next a large circular Palapa shade structure with a traditional palm thatched roof was constructed with a canterra tile floor inlaid with a 12’x 12’ checker board.  As well as a practical and beautiful floor, with the addition of sets of oversized checker and chess pieces, the Palapa will be the scene of giant board games played in the shade of this new structure.

The third phase and crowning glory of the newly developed space is a striking water feature consisting of a 12 foot diameter pool fed by a canterra water race that flows in two water falls from a massive rock wall that partially curves around a circular garden centered by a palo blanco shade tree.  The rest of the area has been paved in natural flagstone with several landscaped gardens and ties into the pathways that connect the homes.

This project, which has taken all winter to complete, had been conceived to add a new community meeting place, located as it is, in between the first (Founders) and second (Agua Viva) phases of the development, and so to celebrate the addition of this beautiful new amenity Associa, our Condominium Administrator, decided it would be the location of a “Season Farewell” Fiesta. 

From HOA funds beer, soft drinks and bottled water were provided, and Will & Cynthia from the Wine Cellar made wine available by the bottle and glass, assisted by Ulises, from the Fresh Market, who was serving glasses of his soon to be famous signature cocktail “The Loreto Bay Cooler”, which had been chosen at the recent Food & Wine Festival.  Jorge of Associa, our Condominium Administrator, had also made arrangements for a Hot Dog vendor from town to bring his food cart out to Loreto Bay and serve the “best Hot Dogs in Loreto”.  However, things did not quite go according to plan – there was a problem hitching the cart to his vehicle and, to make a long story short, the vendor only made it part of the way along the highway before the cart flipped and, with less than an hour before the party was supposed to start it became obvious that there weren’t going to Hot Dogs on the menu!

Being resourceful is one of the primary skills necessary to be an Administrator of a large condominium here in Mexico, and Jorge once again demonstrated his qualifications for the job by quickly formulating a “Plan B” for food.  An order was placed for Deli sandwiches from Baja Onsite, our local convenience store, as well as a stack of extra large pizzas from town, and, along with the appetizers, snacks and deserts that many of the Homeowners brought to share, no one went hungry! 

Over 150 Homeowners had rsvp’d to the event and by 6:00 there were probably over 200 in attendance when Boyd Kelly was introduced to the crowd as the sub-regime volunteer who was the main instigator of the project and he spoke briefly about how it had all come together, with the co-operation of many others, including members of the Master Regime Committee who approved the funding on behalf of the whole community.  With that, and a ribbon cutting ceremony completed, Los Beach Dogs took the stage, in their “large band” format including the “stray dog” Tony the drummer, and the party began!

Needless to say, the evening was a great success!  Friends and Neighbors mingled and danced – spread out around the flagstone patio surrounding the Palapa, socializing and enjoying the food, drinks and entertainment - using the space exactly as it had been conceived at the beginning of the project.  As the “high season” winds down, with many residents planning on heading north in the next month or so, it was a special opportunity for people to get together and spend a relaxing evening sharing in the sense of community that is the very best part of living here.

Now that this area has been properly launched, I look forward to seeing it being used on many occasions, planned and impromptu - a game of chess or checkers under the shade of the Palapa, a quiet sheltered place to read a book, or rest after a walk on the Golf Course – dare I say it, this would also be a perfect venue for a unique wedding ceremony!

And so, a new element has been added to our evolving community, and it brought us together for yet another memorable evening of good friends, having a good time, entertained by our own local musicians – setting the stage (Palapa?) for many more memorable times to come - it really doesn’t get any better when you are lucky enough to be “Living Loreto”!               

Sunday, April 8, 2012

New Flight Options to Loreto!

One of the significant factors affecting many aspects of life here in this relatively remote and isolated part of the Baja Peninsula is the access to air transportation.  Although I routinely drive south from Canada in the Fall and north again in the late Spring/early Summer, shorter trips - like my recent visit back to Canada, are only practical by air.  As well, I know of many Homeowners, whether they are here for the whole winter season or a shorter visit, who have only ever flown in and out of Loreto and would not consider driving here an option.  Thder these circumstancesat the  not surprising that e whole winter season, or on a shorter visit nsula is the erefore it is understandable that we as a community are very conscious about the schedule and capacity of our air service.

Previously I wrote about the Aereo Calafia regional service from the Airport in San Jose del Cabo to Loreto (“Flying to Loreto from San Jose – Up Up and Away”, January 2012) and that continues to provide a limited number of passengers with an option to connect to Loreto through one of the numerous International flights serving the larger tourist center of Los Cabos.  But the new development is that after weeks of rumors circulating, we heard this week that starting April 21st there is going to be another scheduled service from Los Angeles to Loreto launched by Cal Jet Air ( ).  This new service will be a weekly direct flight on Saturdays, leaving LAX around 2:00 pm (local time) and returning from Loreto about 7:15 pm using a Boeing 737-400 jet with a capacity of 150 passengers.

To put this additional airlift capacity into perspective, the current Alaska/Horizon service uses Bombardier Q400 Turbo Props with a capacity of 76 seats on four round trip flights a week: Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  So the new Cal Jet Air flight will add almost 50% to the existing number of seats available.  However, by comparison, during the winter season last year, Alaska was flying into Loreto daily with a combination of Turbo Props and 737s with a total of about 600 seats a week, so even with the addition of these 150 new seats by Cal Jet Air, we are only going to have 75% of the available seats we had a year ago.

I should also point out that this new scheduled service would not have come about without the involvement and support of the Villa del Palmar resort (see “Internet Access – and a visit to the future of Loreto”, January 2011), whose branding is dominant on the Cal Jet Air website and who, no doubt, are counting on a reasonable percentage of these additional seats being occupied by visitors to their beautiful resort.  And while I hope that this venture is successful for the resort and they see a significant increase in their number of guests, I do know that any increase in the number of visitors to the Loreto area will mean an improvement in the local economy which depends, to a large extent, on tourism. 

Needless to say, the combination of a number of factors that have contributed to the general downturn in tourism here (and in many other places in Mexico and other sun destinations) have had a substantial impact, over the past several years, on local employment and most businesses.  Therefore, while we are encouraged by the introduction of this new air service, looking forward, we are optimistic that there will be sufficient demand for seats that this initial weekly flight schedule will be extended beyond the end of the year and ideally expanded with additional flights so that Loreto will become accessible to larger and larger numbers of people.

But realistically a shift like that takes some time to develop, particularly given the fact that for much of this winter season almost all of the Alaska flights have been booked solid months in advance, with few, if any, empty seats available on shorter notice.  While it is worth noting that the Airport here in Loreto serves a much larger area than the immediate surroundings, any increase in the availability of seats will have its biggest impact locally.  

I think that it is a fair assumption to make that the majority of passengers travelling to and from Loreto by air mainly fall into two categories: short term visitors and long term residents.  Because residents tend to plan at least some of their travel further in advance, with a limited number of seats available during this season, flights have booked up further in advance with the result that there have been few, if any, seats available closer to a travel date for the more “spontaneous” short term visitors.

 And it is also true that these short term visitors that have the biggest impact on the local economy; renting accommodations, eating in restaurants, hiring services like taxis, fishing guides etc.  Personally, I know many Homeowners here in Loreto Bay who have been unable to host visits from friends and family this winter due to the lack of available Airline seats and I am also very conscious of the fact that in my own Real Estate business I am seeing fewer visitors than were here at this time last year.  Of course, we will never know how many “lost” visits from tourists there have been, those who wanted to come to this beautiful place (perhaps because of reading about it on a Blog?) but when they looked into booking a ticket they were unable to find seats when they wanted to travel.            

In fact my only regret, in light of the good word of this new flight, is that it is launching so late in the season.  By the time they start flying later this month there will only be about another month before the number of visitor’s drops off significantly for the summer months.  That is not to say that tourism stops altogether, in fact June and July are the “high season” for sport fishing in the Sea of Cortez, but it will probably be this Fall before we will feel the full impact of the additional capacity.  To that point I am encouraged that the Cal Jet Air website shows this flight being scheduled from now through to the end of the year – hopefully, they have realistic expectations of the number of passengers over the summer months and are willing to “hang in” through to the Fall when bookings will increase.  We can also hope that strong demand for seats, particularly starting again this Fall, will at some point justify additional flights and possibly cause Alaska, or other Airlines to consider increasing competitive services to Loreto.

Coincidentally, this announcement comes within a month of more good news that will no doubt have a positive impact on tourism, as quoted from the Mexico Report ( ), a tourism oriented Blog: “In a significant move that recognizes the safety of La Paz and Baja California Sur, the U.S. State Department’s latest 2012 travel update states no security concerns for the region. For the first time, the regular update includes “no advisory” in effect for La Paz and the entire South Baja region.” (see the rest of the article at:

To conclude on another positive note I wonder how many of my readers outside of Mexico realize how popular Mexico continues to be as a tourist destination, in spite of whatever negative publicity has come from North American news media?   Last year Mexico was the most visited country in the world for U.S.-originating travelers, and over 1.6 million Canadians visited Mexico – more than double the number from four years ago.  I am confident that these trends will continue to grow in the future and the significance of a small change like the addition of a new flight here once a week will eventually lead to more arrivals from more airlines and a growing popularity for what is in my opinion a most deserving destination.  Opening up the skies to more flights and allowing more people to discover and share this magical place is an important part of “Living Loreto”.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Loreto Bay - for the Birds!

There are many worlds within this place that I call my home, and this week I was introduced to another of those worlds, that of “birding” by a long term Loreto resident, Tom Haglund, who has had a life-long interest in this hobby and has for many years been observing and cataloging and recording the bountiful bird life that surrounds us here.

In fact, Tom’s passion extends beyond simply observing birds, as he is the author of a comprehensive and well respected website: where he has posted over 500 thumbnails of his own stunning photographs of species that he has observed in the area, each of which can be clicked on to enlarge into a beautiful portrait.  Under the “Names” tab he lists over 150 species by their common, Latin and Spanish names, again with pictures.  If that is not enough, Tom has also branched out into a parallel study of mainly insects and butterflies with some other small mammals of the area under the “Others” tab, again with over 150 thumbnails.  And he also offers fine quality prints of over 100 of his photographs which can be ordered from his website, any of which would add a truly local touch of color to any home or office.

Tom had agreed to take me on one of his early morning bird walks and we met at the south end of the man-made lake that separates the 10th and 18th fairways on another perfect still morning about an hour after sunrise.  Never having experienced “birding” before, I was struck immediately by the fact that Tom’s trained eye saw things that were all around us – but that I was oblivious to.  Within minutes, he was pointing out tiny birds perched on a twig, maybe 50 yards away, identifying them by name, sometimes with their Latin and even Spanish monikers, and describing unique features – flashes of color, habits, songs, where they were in their seasonal molt, whether they were coming or getting ready to leave for the north, or if they were indigenous.

Carrying my binoculars and telephoto camera, I was lucky to catch a glimpse, or sometimes grab a photo of what he was identifying, before he was picking out another subject in another direction and describing their unique features or behaviors – seemingly always with another story or anecdote from a seemingly endless trove of experiences.

I quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to record any sort of comprehensive list of what we were seeing, let alone provide any sense of the vast amounts of information that Tom has at his fingertips, after years and years of patient and passionate observations he has made of these surroundings.  But then he mentioned that he would be posting a list of the species we encountered under the “Recent Sightings” tab on his website, (look for the trip on 03/29 at Nopolo).  His other favorite haunt is at Las Garzas, an arroyo on the outskirts of town.  As you can see from this diary, that records sightings several times a week going back over three years, this is a serious passion for Tom – verging on an obsession, and his dedication to his feathered friends is apparent.

When he is not observing an example or describing its behavior or other unique details, Tom is a source of fascinating information about why this area in particular is so rich in species and such a prime location for Birding.  The unique and beautiful surroundings, that many of us appreciate, but too often take for granted, that combines the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range to the west, transitioning through the desert plains to the estuaries and shoreline of the Sea of Cortez, provides a wide range of elevations, micro-climates and vegetation.  Combine these natural features with the man-made development of fresh water sources, intensive irrigated landscaping with many flowering species and acres of grasslands on the golf course and we are surrounded by a unique environment that has become a magnet for dozens of migrating and resident species – truly a Birder’s Paradise!

Far from a voice in the wilderness, Tom has become a vocal advocate on behalf of the subjects of his passion.  As an avid golfer (his obsession with birdies extends to the round white variety as well as the feathered ones!) Tom has seen the evolution of the Loreto Bay area through its several stages up to and including the current management by Homex.  He was telling me that he has recently approached the management of Homex and introduced them to the staggering potential of appealing to the Birder’s hobby as another source of interest and potential for the future development of the area.

It is no coincidence that the sheer numbers and demographics of the hobby would attract the attention of any Developer looking to create new markets.   According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contributed 36 billion USD to the US economy in 2006, and one fifth (20%) of all Americans are identified as birdwatchers!  And Loreto is uniquely situated to add birding to its growing list of eco-sensitive tourism attractions including kayaking, snorkel and diving and exploring the surrounding desert environment.

After a couple of hours, most of which we spent circling the golf course lake at a leisurely pace, stopping often to observe a subject, or listen to a call, and then travelled to a second spot near the north end of Nopolo to an area of brush near the Tennis Center where we observed yet another species of bird that was exhibiting its own unique mating rituals.  I realized that Tom’s easy enthusiasm, fueled by his vast experience and knowledge, had given me a glimpse of another’s passion for a world I had not realized existed when I woke that morning.

While I will never share his level of commitment to this fascinating sub-culture of birding, this quiet adventure, where Tom shared so willingly his obvious love of nature and allowed me to share a glimpse of yet another amazing aspect of this magical place, opening the door to another world – that of the birds that are all around us here – which I will not take for granted again, while I am “Living Loreto”!