Sunday, January 27, 2013

Paseo Tour in Loreto Bay

After doing the last couple of posts on subjects outside of Loreto Bay I thought this would be a good time to shift the focus onto some of the progress and developments within our community, because there continues to be a lot of work going on here.  So this week I took a bike ride along the Paseo that passes through Loreto Bay and I am reporting on some things that caught my eye.

Probably the most dramatic changes that have occurred during the past year have been in Agua Viva, the second and final phase of Loreto Bay to be developed.  Four years ago, when the original Developer had ceased operations there were few completed homes in this phase but over the next year or two over 100 homes were completed privately by the owners.  However, the common areas around the completed homes were not finished and there were gravel paths and no landscaping.

More recently that changed with flagstone paths, and later, landscaping being added by our HOA where there were clusters of finished homes.  Under a special assessment voted on by all the Homeowners in Loreto Bay work has continued during the past year on sidewalks along the Paseo and more recently beautiful landscaping is being added along these sidewalks.  Another major addition to Agua Viva in the last year is another Community Pool located towards the north end of the Development giving nearby neighbors more convenient access than the original Pool in the south end of the Founders Neighborhood.

Moving from Agua Viva to the north end of Founders one of the first things to catch my eye was the much improved façade of the “Hacienda” building with the tunnel leading from the Paseo into the first cluster of homes to be built in the Loreto Bay development.  This property, which has been standing unfinished for a number of years, was originally designed as mainly office and commercial space and is currently listed for sale.  Late last year the streetscape received a fresh coat of light grey paint with darker grey trim and much improved the appearance, now all we need is new ownership and investment to complete the building so it can assume it’s intended role in the community.

Next to the Hacienda building are two four storey buildings; Posada Norte and Sur which have their own history in the Loreto Bay Development.  These were designed as mixed use buildings with the main floors designated as commercial space and the upper three floors of each as residential apartment units.  Most of the apartments were sold a couple of years before the demise of the original Developer and the buildings stood partially complete for several years afterwards.  Homex purchased the main floors, along with several unsold apartments above as part of the liquidation of the assets of the original Developer, and last winter they finished most of the exteriors of both buildings which was a major improvement in their appearance.  This Fall they undertook some additional interior structural work on the Norte building, all of which encourages some optimism that we are getting near to a completion plan for both buildings, which has been under negotiation for the past year or more between Homex and the people who originally made deposits on most of the apartment units in the two buildings.

Across the Paseo from the Posada buildings one of the largest landscaping companies in Loreto Bay has set up an attractive and well organized garden Nursery to supply their own workers with the plant materials that are used in the common area landscaping, as well as work they do on interior gardens for Homeowners.  I purchased a number of plants there when I re-landscaped my interior courtyard just before Christmas and even picked up some poinsettias to enjoy inside my home over the Holidays.

More sidewalk landscaping is going on along the “commercial strip” of the Paseo in Founders where there are a number of retail and food services, some of which regular readers will recall my writing about in earlier posts.  I want to underline how much these improvements mean in the general beautification of our community.  Since the earliest days of Loreto Bay, the landscaping along the winding pathways has always been an important part of the ambiance as one walks through the clusters of completed homes, and over the years, as these plantings have grown and matured, the surroundings have become more and more beautiful.

But before this winter, and the progress of the two-year infrastructure program that we are halfway through, the beauty that could be found along the pathways and in Community Courtyards surrounding our homes off the Paseo was not seen by the casual observer driving through the Development.  But now, from the south access road around to the Inn, and through most of the length of the Community, the beautiful landscaping that has been so much a part of Loreto Bay is now being extended to it’s borders and making the streetscape a welcoming introduction to the garden-like surrounding found within.

Taken in total these changes have made the biggest improvement in the appearance of the development in the history of Loreto Bay, since most of the construction was completed in Founders neighborhood.  But, it is easy to take for granted the gradual incremental changes while they happen.  That is why it is important to occasionally stop and smell the bougainvillea, and appreciate the progress we have made so far, and, with a little imagination, see what this place will become.

Appreciating change when it happens, while keeping in mind the raw beauty of the natural surroundings and the amazing lifestyle that is being created here – that is the definition of “Living Loreto”!

P.S. I was sent the link below to the following article about kayaking in the Sea of Cortes including a number of references to Loreto that was published this weekend in the Calgary Herald newspaper - proof that I'm not the only one who thinks this place is special!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Have I got your attention yet?

The photographer that took this amazing picture, Richard Jackson, is the subject of this week’s Blog.  I have admired Rick’s breathtaking wildlife and landscape photography almost as long as I have lived here in Loreto when I started seeing his work displayed in some select locations in town.  Not long after that, I had the opportunity to meet Rick and his wife Jill, who are partners in a small “boutique” hotel just off the Malacon here in Loreto.

Recently, when our paths crossed again I asked Rick if he would be interested in being profiled in my Blog and you will be happy to learn he agreed – meeting with me in my Office in Loreto Bay this past week to tell me his Living Loreto story.

Rick’s Father-in-Law, who is an avid fisherman, had visited Loreto on frequent trips to the Baja over many years, and Jill and Rick were accompanying her parents on his retirement trip when they passed through Loreto in early 2004.  While walking the Malacon during that visit they wandered up a side street and saw a sign advertising a large residential compound for sale, consisting of a main home with 2 small “casitas” and a partially open boat garage with additional land for further development.

One thing led to another and before long Jill and Rick had become partners with her parents in the property which, after adding a couple of more casitas and a swimming pool, later that year became their new hotel, Las Cabanas de Loreto ( ).  When Jill and her parents returned to Loreto that fall to begin operating their new hotel, Rick carried on with his successfully established business travelling to art shows across the US, selling his prints of his wildlife photography.

Rick’s fascination with wildlife and photography had it’s beginnings watching “Wild Kingdom” every week with his Father when he was growing up, and carried on into Junior College where he took Zoology as the courses closest to his passion that he could find.  But, it was finally with the help of an Uncle that Rick was able to buy his first serious camera and lenses and set up a small darkroom, when he finally was able to pursue his passion for photographing nature and wildlife.

His career got off to an inauspicious beginning, at the first “swap meet” he attended as a vendor he failed to sell any of his early collection of wildlife pictures – but from that initial experience he quickly learned about the art shows that became a circuit that he worked diligently and with growing success over the next three decades. 

From that point on Rick and Jill’s life became an exotic blend of a “gypsy-like” tour of art shows, where he developed a clientele for his super realistic “once-in-a-lifetime” images of wildlife and landscape, alternated with field trips shared with Jill to distant locations like Africa and Antarctica where he restocked his collection of images, and almost as importantly the stories behind the images, that became his inventory for the art show tours.  In addition to the retail side of the business Rick has also had his work published in Audubon and Outdoor Magazine as well as Sierra Club books and posters.

Meanwhile, starting about 7 years ago with the opening of the hotel, Jill and his in-laws were living and working at building up the hotel business with growing success, particularly after achieving the coveted first place ranking for Loreto in Tripadvisor, which they have proudly maintained for a number of years.  Over much the same period of time as the hotel business was building, Rick was seeing a drop off in customers for his photography at the art shows due to the declining economic situation in the US and the reduced amount of disposable income generally.

As the numbers of art shows that he attended declined Rick began to shift his focus (no pun intended) more towards Loreto, where he found much to satisfy his appetite for natural history; perfectly situated as it is between the beautiful Sierra de la Gigante mountains, the Sea of Cortez and the collection of near-by islands, all of which provides him with more than enough inspiration and subject material to continue to grow his photographic collection.  He still maintains a striking website where you can view and order his work and he still attends the occasional art show in the US, but now his and Jill’s life is centered here in Loreto.

But there is a new chapter about to begin for both of them here.  They will be opening a shared Office/Gallery on the town square in Loreto, where Jill will base her growing Real Estate business and Rick will be able to display his photographic art to visitors and residents of Loreto.  This exciting new enterprise will enable many more people to see the beauty and natural wonder that surrounds us here, through the gifted eyes of an artist of Rick’s caliber.

What started for me as a fascination with the stunning images I had seen (that make my photographs look like “snapshots”), and led me to approaching Rick about being a Blog subject, has given me a doorway into learning more about his and Jill’s life and what brought them to Loreto.  Now, with this understanding, I am even more impressed with the fact that this couple, who have travelled to some of the most spectacular places on earth to capture iconic images of natural beauty, have chosen to settle here and find the source of inspiration that all of us who are here understand – but few have the talent to express so memorably!  Truly in Rick’s art we can see a gifted vision of “Living Loreto”!  

This week I heard the sad news that a friend Alberto Perez had passed away suddenly.  I had gotten to know "Beto" on my occasional visits to El Caballo Blanco, the bookstore here in Loreto her ran with his wife Jeannine, and I mentioned him in a recent posting about a lecture held in the store "A Glimpse of Loreto's History, Nov. 2012". 
Although I did not know Beto well, I looked forward to visiting with him when I visited the store and will remember him sitting in a comfortable chair in the back room, talking about the books he loved that surrounded him there.
My condolences to Jeannine and his many friends in Loreto and beyond.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Paulette - Loreto's Pie Lady

In my recent Blog describing Christmas dinner at Casablanca (my house here in Loreto Bay) I made reference to the pumpkin pie that we had for desert as coming from Ette’s Pies, which at the time gave me the idea that this establishment would be a good future Blog subject . . . well, the future is now!

I first got to know Paulette, the proprietress of said pie shop, when she was partners in a winning paella team at the inaugural competition held here several years ago.  Then just over a year ago she opened her Ette’s Pie Shop in the town of Loreto and I have been a fairly frequent customer ever since.  But I was curious about the story of how she came to be in the pie business here in our small town in the southern Baja, and so I arranged to meet her at the shop and find out more.

Paulette and her Husband first came to Loreto on a post-retirement RV trip through the Baja 17 years ago, and, like so many others ex-pats who have made their home here over the years, they fell in love with Loreto as one of the prettiest towns in the whole peninsula.  They soon had purchased an oceanfront lot on the north side of town and proceeded to build their dream home, an impressive 3 story structure.  In those days there were far fewer lodging options here than there are now, and not long after they were comfortably settled into their new home they started to receive unexpected visitors, knocking at their door inquiring if this was a Hotel?

After this had happened several more times Paulette decided that perhaps they were being sent a message and so she went about turning their home into a Bed & Breakfast, which quickly became very popular and for number of years operated on a more or less sold out basis most of the winter season.  Between her thriving business and her many social and charitable activities in the town, not to mention her passion for fishing in her custom designed Panga (that she employs a skipper for, so she can concentrate on the fishing) life was good - and busy.

However, like so many other businesses here in Loreto, things took a change for the worse after the winter of ‘08/’09 and the “perfect storm” of the economic crisis in the US, Swine Flu and too much negative press about Mexico, with the result that the B&B business dropped off dramatically.  However, Paulette kept busy, returning to the US to help run a friend’s restaurant business and wait for better times to return.

Back in Loreto during the summer of ’11, a planned weekend fishing expedition had to be postponed and so Paulette decided to take the opportunity to indulge one of her other passions and spent that whole Saturday in her kitchen baking pies – lots of pies!  The next morning early she set off to the Tianguis, or Sunday Market, and set up a booth selling her pies, whole and by the slice, to the largely Mexican clientele, since there are few “gringos” here during the heat of the summer.

It will come as no surprise now, to her many satisfied customers, that selling the pies at the Market were a great success and she sold out that first Sunday morning, and that initial success continued throughout the summer, building a delicious reputation among many of the local people.  (I digress for a moment, but for many of you reading this in northern climates, you will not appreciate the particular challenge of keeping cream pies and cheese cakes suitable for sale at an open air market on a simple folding table without refrigeration when the temperature is hitting 100 degrees with 80% humidity!  Paulette’s solution – she froze a 4” thick slab of ice in her biggest chafing dish and  fixed a cover over it so the pies stayed nicely chilled, displayed on ice, until the happy customers took them home to enjoy.)

Seeing the success of her summer market experiment, Paulette headed north to the US that Fall with a limited budget and a long shopping list of all the furniture, fixtures and kitchen equipment she needed to complete her meticulously planned new enterprise.  With extensive research, hours perusing Craig’s List and other sources and a generous helping of determination and creativity she bargained and even bartered for everything she needed to turn a previously somewhat shabby storefront on a main street in Loreto into the sparkling clean and warmly welcoming epitome of a Pie Shop.  (She proudly pointed out the custom cut lettering of her window sign with the matching professionally fabricated overhead sign outside and confided to me that she met a sign maker, who it turned out was an avid fisherman, and soon the deal was struck – he would supply her with her signage in exchange for an all expense paid week-long fishing vacation at her B&B in Loreto!)

Opening in time for US Thanksgiving (Pumpkin Pies!) a little over a year ago, the business took off quickly and with Sonya handling the front counter sales, Paulette soon added Norma as an assistant in the kitchen in back.  Homemade pies and deserts, cakes, muffins and even quiche and chicken pot pies were an almost instant success with the ex-pat community, hungry for familiar comfort foods and deserts for special occasions.  But, talking with Paulette, I understood that she takes particular pride in the growing acceptance and popularity of her baking with the local Mexican population – whose support, particularly through the long hot summer months when there are few other here, is vital to running a viable year-round business.            

I was allowed back into her small and spotless bakery kitchen that efficiently uses every square foot, and is stocked with every imaginable utensil and device necessary in a commercial operation, two Kitchenaid mixers, two Cuisineart processors, a domestic stove and a professional convection oven, two freezers and a fridge, and even a small storage trailer parked outside the back door for extra supplies.  “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place” could well be the motto over the door, and in the time I spent watching Paulette and Norma whip up a few more of their popular cheesecakes, it was clear that the whole set-up of the kitchen, and the shop itself, was geared to the efficient and professional production of a quality product – with a lot of love!

Getting to know a local character that has brought a rich and tasty new dimension to the enjoyment of food here in our town, while re-inventing herself and finding a business opportunity in a lifelong passion this is one of the most delicious parts of “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

San Javier redux - post Paul

I have had Visitors for the past couple of weeks, as regular readers will know, and this week I want to describe a trip I took them on - up to San Javier, a second Mission located about 32 km off the Highway between Loreto Bay and the town of Loreto.  I have written about earlier trips to this beautiful Mission building and the dramatic drive into the Sierra de la Gigante mountains to get there ("San Javier Revisited", November 2011) but this the first time my Guests had made the complete trip, as the road was closed partway due to construction on their previous visit.

It was also the first time I had made the trip since Hurricane Paul had channeled millions of gallons of runoff down the arroyos that have their source in this mountain range, and although I knew from various reports that the road was passable, I had heard that there had been some damage and was interested to see conditions for myself. 

The first part of the trip was uneventful with no apparent damage to the road, other than the odd stretch of broken pavement and a border of fallen rock and rubble that had washed down onto the roadside, where it ran beside steep banks or excavated cuts.   But after about 10 km (about 1/3 of the way from the Highway) we came to the first washed out part of the road, where almost the entire outside lane of the pavement appeared to have been “bitten” off and washed away down the bank.

Those of you familiar with this drive may recall that at about the halfway point there is a dramatic hairpin switchback on a steep incline, with the apex of the turn at the base of a long deep canyon that disappears up into the mountain range.  This was the location of the most dramatic evidence of the devastation that had been caused by the torrential runoff from Hurricane Paul. 

With the surrounding mountain peaks collecting many square miles of the accumulated rainfall, it was all funneled into this deep sharp canyon, with the resulting avalanche of water creating havoc as it crashed through this narrow V-shaped formation – carrying hundreds of tons of rock and rubble (some boulders the size and many times the weight of small cars).  The damage to the road began about halfway up the incline where the asphalt was stripped from the roadway and it became a pot-holed muddy track the remainder of the way up to the switchback corner. 

Approaching the corner, the rubble field from the runoff filled the gap between the roadway we were on and where it doubled back, continuing to climb the hillside.  Beyond the corner we returned to asphalt again, but after a short distance there was another huge bite out of the roadway, leaving only part of the inside lane remaining and 15 or 20 feet of 4  foot diameter drainage conduit hanging in mid air where the road has once cover it.

Making our way carefully around several of these damaged areas we were soon on smooth pavement again and carried on for about another 5 km before we came to the next eroded area where the road met the mouth of another canyon that had carried it’s own flood during the storm, followed by another patch carved away during the storm about another 3 or 4 km further on.  After we left the mountainous area and were on the high sierra the next 10 km or so of road was in perfect condition until we were about 4 km from San Javier when we encountered the final stretch damaged road.

This road on this final approach to San Javier had been all but destroyed by runoff and a detour had to be quickly upgraded to carry the many hundreds of pilgrims and visitors that descend upon this spiritual icon on it’s Saint’s Day, December 2nd, just weeks after the deluge that was Hurricane Paul.  Now, a month later, the new widened roadbed is being graded in preparation for repaving, but is once again passable to single lane traffic.

Considering the areas of havoc and devastation we had passed through to get there, the hamlet of San Javier itself appeared to be untouched by the effects of the recent storms and associated downpours.  And it should have been no surprise that the massive, rough hewn, stone edifice of the Mission itself was undisturbed, having been the spiritual center of this place for over 250 years, this building has withstood far greater challenges than the best that “Paul” could throw at it.

The rest of our visit followed much the same pattern as many previous ones; appreciating the rugged exterior stonework of the building and then stepping into the cool dusky interior of whitewashed plaster.  Walking between the simple wooden pews lining each side of the long narrow nave, where a modest crèche of plaster figures replaced several rows of the benches on one side.  Approaching the alter, the massive carved and gilded wooden screen that makes up the end wall of the transept, rises three or more stories overhead, decorated with oil portraits, (most of which have remarkably survived in the harsh climatic conditions) and the true majesty of the building and it’s antiquity reaches full impact.

Returning outside, we continue around the extended outbuildings and make our way back to the remains of the 300 year old olive grove, wandering along a pathway beside where the Jesuits created a primitive irrigation system.  Water, the secret to life in the desert, nourishing the first crops, from what had been barren desert ground, and eventually became a mainly self-sustaining settlement.  Surrounded by this living history and seeing it manifested in the simple farming practices that continue – still much unchanged today - creates a time-warp that blurs the distance between today and the 300 years of civilization that have contributed to the unmistakable spiritually charged atmosphere that permeates this hallowed place.

Reconnecting with a special place, through the act of introducing it to others - while appreciating the awesome fury of nature unleashed, and how fragile man’s infrastructure is standing against it, not bad for a half-day excursion when “Living Loreto”.