Sunday, May 18, 2014

Blog reflections on Season Six

Well, it's that time of year again.  This is the last Blog posting for this the sixth Season of Living Loreto and it is time for me to thank you, my loyal Readers, for your continued interest in my thoughts and experiences about the place I live. 

With almost 200 postings to date and a total of almost a quarter of a million words, this Blog has become an important part of my understanding and appreciation of my life here - and, in fact, sometimes an important part OF my life here as well!  Writing these posts on a weekly basis is occasionally a challenge, looking for a topic, particularly when personal commitments or lack of "events" are factors, and can result in what I have come to refer to as "Seinfeld Blogs" - or Blogs about "nothing".  But ironically to me, sometimes these "Seinfelds" are some of the most popular posts I write, based on website stats and feedback that I get from some of you.

The (self-imposed) pressure to "publish or perish" on a weekly basis has at times been the incentive for me to do things, or go places, that I might not have, without the need to have another story or experience to share with you.  It has also imposed a degree of intellectual discipline in my life that I think has been beneficial and has lent some structure to it as well.  But my list of benefits from this would be incomplete without including that through persistence and repetition, writing this Blog has been a do-it-yourself course for me in learning about how to write.

And for all of that, I have YOU to thank!  'Cause as the saying goes: "Without no audience, there ain't no show!"  Over the course of the past 6 years, I have taken perhaps too much statistical interest in the Blog audience data, but I do get a lot of satisfaction from following the number of "hits" I get from week to week, and year to year, and one of the things that strikes me is how consistent the figures have been at about 20,000 hits per year, or an average of around 500 per week.

While I am here I write between 30 and 40 weekly posts during the winter season, but the Blog also continues to get hits year round, throughout the summer months.  To some extent this "off-season" readership contributes to another Blog Nerd statistic, and that is the on-going popularity of certain posts, all of which can be found in the archives at the top of this page.  Apparently the Blog title can be a factor in its popularity, as can some "key words" that may be searched and attract hits, as well as popular subjects or areas of interest.  For example, one of this Season's posts: "A Whale of a Tale", is now the most viewed post of all since the beginning of the Blog, although it has only been available online for two months!

In addition to being interested in what interests you, I also find it interesting to know where you are reading from, because it is the World Wide Web, after all!  While it will probably not be surprising that over the life of the Blog by far the largest number of hits have come from the USA, at double the combined numbers  from Canada and Mexico which are in the second and third spots.  (Although, I believe that the Mexico number is mainly made up of US and Canadian readers who are Loreto Bay Homeowners accessing the Blog while they are here in Mexico.)  However, some of the next most frequent sources may surprise you: Russia and Germany rank 4th and 5th, and while the UK and France may not be surprising as next in the order, I for one would not have expected Latvia, Ukraine and Slovenia to round out the top ten!

Something else that has evolved over the life of the Blog is the number of contacts that I have received from Readers.  From a small handful in each of the first few years, that number has grown dramatically doubling year over year for the last several years.  Those contacts fall into three main categories; people looking for information and/or advice - often prior to a visit to Loreto, "fan" mail from people who just enjoy reading these posts, and Real Estate inquiries, which is the fastest growing group - reflecting the positive changes in this market in recent years.

And so, although I am not actually leaving Loreto at this time and I expect to be here for another month or so, I am beginning my "summer hiatus" from writing the Blog, as Loreto Bay transitions from the busy winter season to the much quieter (and hotter!) summer.  I trust that you will understand that for the next few weeks that I am here, but not making new postings, I will still be enjoying the uncommon experience of "Living Loreto" without writing about it!

Thank you again for your continued interest in these pages and I look forward to writing for you again this Fall, starting sometime in October if you want to diarize a reminder to check back, but until then I hope some of you will continue to look back at past posts and enjoy keeping in touch with "Living Loreto"!

Hasta Luego!   

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Glass Bottom Boat launched in Loreto!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to join a preliminary excursion on what will be the next new "on the water" attraction for Loreto - Loreto Coastal Expeditions' "WANTOSEA" Glass Bottom Boat!  This project, which has been in the works for over two years, is the "brainchild" of Tim Yarbrough, with assistance from his son Brandon, who are both "serial entrepreneurs" here in Loreto.  Tim is an experienced stainless steel fabricator, has an organic market garden business supplying local vegetables in season, and a  composting business - as well as a sideline in delicious kettle popcorn, while Brandon supplies Loreto Bay with a wireless internet service as well as providing other computer related services.

But their true love is the Glass Bottom Boat project that started to come together when Tim found a previously owned 26 foot life boat in San Diego and transported it to his fully equipped workshop on the main floor of his custom designed home in Loreto, where he began the transformation that conservatively took over 1,000 hours to complete. 

I met Tim and Brandon and their Skipper Noe at the Marina in Puerto Escondido and we departed the harbor shortly after I boarded the beautifully rebuilt boat.  As we got underway, Tim explained that the whole interior of the boat, except for the original seat bench that ran down both sides, had been newly fabricated out of stainless steel and fiberglass, including the large "bimini", shade structure that covered the entire boat from bow to stern. 

I quickly understood the importance of shading the interior of the boat when I looked into the mate black steel well that filled the center of the boat and through the four laminated glass panels that made up the bottom of the boat.  Without shade from the sun's reflection, it would have been impossible to see through the glass bottom.  I will admit that, to begin with, it was a bit unnerving to be staring at the somewhat murky bottom of the Marina harbor area through the bottom of the boat, but after a brief explanation from Tim I understood the principle behind the design.

In the first place, each of the four glass panels are two 3/8" thick sheets of safety glass laminated together - like a vehicle windshield, more than strong enough to resist breaking under all but the most unlikely direct hits or rocky collisions.  But even in the event of a panel becoming damaged, the rectangular steel well that surrounds the glass panels would contain the water up to the boat's waterline (about 2 feet) after which the boat would continue to float.  This was demonstrated when they did in water test of the hull, without the glass panels installed, and the water rose only about halfway up the surrounding well and the boat continued to float stably  (see video clip).

I have mentioned before in these pages that I am not much of a "water baby" and not a strong swimmer, so although I have snorkeled occasionally I do not really enjoyed the experience - but this was different!  Imagine snorkeling in IMAX with 42 square feet of underwater view, and without worrying about water temperature, currents - or breathing! 

As we made our way out of the Escondido harbor we paused over a few underwater rocky outcrops where I discovered another unique aspect of glass bottom boating - the view of the bottom is magnified, so that a submerged rock that looks a foot or two below the glass is probably more like four or five feet deep.  Comforting to know that while the shallow 2 foot draft of this boat is well above any potential rocky hazards, the view from above is even more dramatic due to this magnification effect.

We lost sight of the bottom in more than about 10 or 15 feet of water, depending on how clear it is in a particular place, as Tim explained that many factors including rising and waning tides, temperatures, currents  etc. can affect the water clarity.  As we picked up speed and made our way across the channel towards Ilsa Danzante, there was a stream of bubble turbulence from the bow running down the center line of the glass bottom, giving a different, almost hypnotic sense of speed that I found hard to look away from, in spite of the beautiful scenery surrounding us above water.

The rest of the morning was spent "gunkholing" around the shore of Danzante checking out underwater features and spotting schools of dozens of tropical fish, dark grey Parrot fish (delicious!), long skinny Trigger fish and Manta Rays "flying" underwater.  Even when there weren't fish to watch there were many large colorful Starfish and plate sized Scallops clinging to the underwater rocks.  I was surprised how these fish tended to congregate in specific areas in large numbers, and then in similar "terrain" 20 or 30 feet away, not a fish to be seen.  The boat was also an ideal viewing platform because we hardly disturbed the marine life as we floated above them and so we were able to hang almost motionless for minutes at a time observing an underwater world that has been the sole preserve of snorkelers and divers previously.       

Meanwhile, for Tim, Brandon and their Skipper Noe, this was a scouting trip to develop the itineraries for their future excursions, finding the best locations for spectacular underwater views and where best to find fish to observe.  Time passed quickly, and after a couple of hours we headed back to Escondido where they dropped me off, and then headed back to the Loreto Marina where they would pull the boat out again until the next trip.  Now that the boat has been successfully tested, work is underway putting the final touches on the marketing plan that will make this venture a going concern and exciting new adventure activity for Loreto.

Brandon is building a website presence under the name, which should be launched (no pun intended) in the near future, and  where they will be accepting reservations for one, two or six hour cruises, probably with a main focus on the islands of Danzante and Carmen.  I am grateful to have been invited along on this early "shakedown" cruise, and, while there are still a few logistical details to be worked out, I have no doubt that this talented and hard-working Father Son partnership will "launch" an exciting new attraction to the waters around Loreto and bring unforgettable memories to their many future passengers!

Getting to know better, two fascinating people, embarking on their long held dream, which will bring the mysteries and secrets of the "best" part of the part of the Sea of Cortez to the eyes of Visitors and Residents alike - this was a special day, "Living Loreto"!      

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Loreto Bay Flashback

It has been a quiet week here in Loreto Bay, with a dwindling number of Homeowners in residence as the exodus north continues, offset to some degree by a steady turnover of Visitors renting Villas for short term stays.  The days are getting noticeably warmer, with daytime highs in the mid-thirties Celsius and mid-eighties Fahrenheit, with afternoon breezes most days that clear the rising humidity that is only a hint of what is to come in the next few months.

Thinking about a Blog topic this week, I realized that it is almost 10 years since
my first drive down the Baja in June '04, which was about 7 months after I purchased the lot in November '03 that became my home here two years later.  This in turn lead me to look for pictures from that memorable trip on "Highway #1" in a 36' Motorhome (what was I thinking!) and first views of the site preparation work .  What follows is a bit of a trip down "Memory Lane" to the earliest days of this Development which I hope will help both Homeowners, and those who may have only visited Loreto Bay through these pages, to reflect on how far we have come from the early days of "chalk on sand" to the thriving self-governed community of over 600 completed homes that now annually attract many hundreds of Homeowners and Visitors alike.

In hindsight, that first drive itself was relatively uneventful, but certainly was at the time, stressful - due mainly to the narrowness of the two lane road with a lack of shoulders and compounded by the "foreignness" of the territory and uncertainty of procedures like border crossings and military check points enroute.  The trip took 3 days (I now normally drive it in a day and a half in a regular vehicle) due to my cautious approach to speed in the Motorhome and the requirement to overnight where there were RV utilities available.  Having said that, I think this was the most focused and intense driving experience I had ever had and I limited each day's travel to about 6 hours.

But I also have vivid memories of experiencing some of the most breathtaking and/or strange scenery of the Baja for the first time on that trip - landmarks that have become more familiar over the annual round trips I have made since: the boulder fields of Catavina, the beaches of Bahia Conception etc.  And then, the growing excitement of finally approaching Loreto at the end of a 4,000 km trip from western Canada, and the sense of accomplishment I felt having travelled most of the length of North America and seen the changes of geography, geology and climate that entails.

On arrival in Loreto, and the first visit to Loreto Bay since purchasing 7 months before, I remember the
excitement I felt seeing the first tangible signs of the future development - site preparation, which entailed removing the top meter of sandy soil and then watering the ground and compacting it in several stages as the soil was replaced back to the original depth again, providing a stable foundation for the construction to come.  I remember playing a round of golf on the original course, which was (to be polite) in primitive condition, with stretches of more or less natural sandy scrub brush between barely irrigated landing areas, and apparently "fertilized" with free range cattle droppings.

I made a couple of trips back to Loreto by air the following year while my home was one of the first under construction, seeing the walls rise, first as raw compressed earth adobe bricks and concrete blocks, and later as finished plastered walls.  But even after my home was completed in November of 2005 it was surrounded by construction of unfinished homes for months (and in some cases, years) to come.  I also remember joining in several of the Developer's Sales Events that happened to coincide with some of the early trips I made to Loreto, and seeing the infectious enthusiasm shared between the many groups of potential (and actual) home buyers that came under the spell of the message of Loreto Bay and the vision of the Developers.

This exercise in nostalgia, and looking back over the relatively short history of Loreto Bay, brings the accomplishments and progress of the past ten years into sharp focus.  What was an undeveloped stretch of featureless sand and scrub on a crescent beach, has now become a growing community of over 600 homes with a population of hundreds of residents during the winter Season.  Loreto Bay also provides employment for dozens more who work full time maintaining the homes and the acres of pristine landscaping year round.  

There are also a growing number of businesses providing services and supplies to the community, although the seasonal nature of the resident population poses challenges for some of these enterprises.  But I believe that one of the most important aspects of this unique place is intangible - the strong sense of Community that has been created here goes far beyond the "bricks and mortar" that makes up the buildings.  

That is the common ground that so many of us share, who have made their homes here over these years, as diverse as we may be in age and background, we have found a place we call home and we have all made sacrifices and faced challenges to accomplish that.  And I think that it is the synergy that comes from these shared experiences that is one of the bonds that we Homeowners have in common, and has helped to bring us together in this Community.

Looking back to the beginnings, so as to better appreciate how far we have come, and put into perspective what we have all helped to create, that is what it means to be "Living Loreto"!