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”.