Sunday, February 22, 2015

Westjet arrives in Loreto!

One of the realities in living in a tourism development area like Loreto, located in a remote part of the
southern Baja, is how dependent we are on air access for economic success.  At one time, since the Loreto Bay Development began over 10 years ago, there were up to four Airlines serving Loreto from multiple points of origin in the US.  Following the economic turmoil between ’08 and ’09 we were reduced to one Airline with as few as 3 flights per week in a mid-size turboprop carrying about 80 passengers.

Beyond the immediate impact that this reduction in the number and size of planes servicing Loreto had on the number of passengers who were able to fly in and out of Loreto, it also changed the type of passengers who were able to travel here.  Because of the existing ex-pat population in and around the town of Loreto and the growing number of Homeowners in Loreto Bay, when the numbers of flights and the size of planes serving Loreto were reduced the people wanting to travel back and forth to their homes here booked their flights long in advance to be sure they would be able to travel when they wanted to.

This resulted in the flights being heavily pre-
booked months in advance, so when other people who wanted to travel to Loreto for a vacation or short term visit tried to book seats closer to their travel date very often they found the flights sold out.  Presumably this would often result in these potential Visitors having to change their plans and travel somewhere else where there were seats available when they wanted to make their bookings.  This reduction in the numbers of tourists able to visit Loreto hit the Hotel and Restaurant businesses hard and the local economy suffered as a result. 

So in recent years as we have seen a gradual increase in the numbers of flights by Alaska/Horizon from the low of 3 per week to now daily service, we have also seen some improvements in the local businesses that were most negatively affected.  The situation has also been positively affected by the addition of some domestic Mexican Airline flights, like the twice a week service from Aereo Calafia that flies here from Tijuana and continues on to the Mainland.

But what we have all been waiting for during the past 4 or 5 years was the addition of new North American scheduled services to Loreto from somewhere other than LAX where the Alaska flights are from.  About a year ago Westjet, a Calgary based Airline that is now the second largest in Canada, announced that they would begin a weekly flight to Loreto direct from Calgary in mid-February this year through until the end of May, and, after a year of anticipation, the inaugural flight arrived at the Loreto Airport this past weekend. 

To put this event into further context, Calgary was one of the largest markets for Home Buyers here during the marketing phase of Loreto Bay, particularly in the early stages in 2004 and 2005 before the focus of the efforts shifted more to the US market.  So in addition to the sizable number of Loreto Bay Homeowners in Calgary, and their families and friends who are potential visitors here, Calgary will act as a convenient hub for travelers from all over western Canada to connect with the new Loreto direct flight and avoid the complications, timing issues and expense of connecting through LAX which often requires an overnight stay.

While this new scheduled service was an important development for Loreto and the surrounding area, it was of particular significance here in Loreto Bay for those of us from Canada and so plans were made for a suitable celebration at the Airport to mark the arrival of the inaugural flight.  But we were not going to be alone – the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Loreto prepared an impressive display of local delicacies and snacks as well as Margaritas and other beverages.  The Baja Sur Tourism Association had colorful gift bags with T-Shirts and other promotional items donated by sponsors.  One of the best local Mariachi Bands was on hand to serenade the arrivals and along with Tourism Officials, the State Governor, and Loreto’s Mayor were in attendance to officially welcome and greet the President of Westjet who personally accompanied the sold-out inaugural flight.

With only one commercial flight arriving and departing from Loreto Airport most days, the welcoming party that assembled during the hour prior to the scheduled arrival of the new Westjet flight overlapped with the earlier departure of the regular Alaska/Horizon flight causing the Airport to be busier than I have ever seen it before!  As it turned out, both the Alaska departure and the Westjet arrival were somewhat delayed, but when the “big” Westjet 737 pulled onto the tarmac outside the arrivals gate a resounding cheer came from the assembled well-wishers – in spite of the fact that no one on board would be aware of what was going on in the terminal.

Disembarking, Immigration and Customs procedures and baggage claims took the usual time to process the sold out flight so it was some time before the first Officials from Westjet emerged into the Airport concourse but the patient welcoming crowd cheered them enthusiastically with signs, balloons and streamers.  After the official introductions between the Politicians and Executives took place, they moved to a temporary podium where Westjet’s President made an impressively fluent speech in Spanish in which he referred to the now 7 destinations in Mexico that they served and that last year they had carried over 1,000,000 passengers to Mexico!

After enthusiastic welcoming speeches by the State Governor and Town Mayor, official gifts were exchanged and the “formal” part of the event was completed.  Meanwhile, the passengers continued to emerge from the Security area in twos and threes after their arrivals had been processed – each group of which were greeted with their own ovation from the waiting welcome committee.

In these days of increasingly jaded commercial Airline travel, this event and the genuine enthusiasm of the assembled resident’s welcome of both the Airline and their Passengers harkened back to a time long ago when air travel was a special and exciting event, one to be celebrated by both those on the ground and those who were travelling!  It also reminded me of a time when the flying experience was not overshadowed by security concerns but was an excitingly special occasion.

For most of us who were there to welcome the first of what we all hope becomes an ongoing service throughout next Season, this was one more milepost in Loreto’s growth and evolution into the prime destination it deserves to be, and perhaps the beginning of new adventures for some of the arriving passengers who may come to share the dream of “Living Loreto”! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Open Mic returns to Loreto Bay

Just over a year ago the first Open Mic night was held at the Wine Cellar here in Loreto Bay and since then it has become a popular local event, alternating monthly between that venue and the 1697 Restaurant in town during the winter season.  This past weekend it was again turn for the Wine Cellar to host the festivities and, as it had been a while since I had last attended one of these events, I thought it was time to check out another evening of community music.

Anticipating that this would be a popular night out I arrived early for the advertised 6:00 pm start and saw that Will & Cynthia had prepared for a bigger than usual crowd in the Wine Cellar this evening, having added more tables and chairs than their regular layout.  In a corner by the doors to the patio the musicians had set up their PA and amplifier equipment and some footlights and a couple of them were warming up and setting levels as the “early birds” in the audience found seats and claimed tables.

Drink orders were made and delivered and plates of appetizers followed to most tables as more people arrived and the Wine Cellar began to buzz on a Friday night.  Soon Rich, currently the “Lone Dog” here in Loreto Bay (without his “pack” of other musicians that make up Los Beach Dogs, Loreto Bay’s “house band”) was first to take the informal stage area and did a solo instrumental blues guitar piece to open the evening’s entertainment, after which he introduced Michael the first performer who accompanied his own soft vocals on the guitar.

As the evening fell and the sky darkened a steady stream of people filled the available seating and kept the Wine Cellar staff busy filling drink and food orders as the music filled the room.  Following Michael’s set Rich returned to the stage and invited Jill and Evie, who had come from town, to add their voices to the evening.  With their melodic back up on several standards, Rich sounded even better than usual as he sang and played amplified acoustic guitar. 

Meanwhile, outside on the patio there was an added attraction being set up.  Jorge, an artisan jeweler from Loreto, and his wife Brenda had an attractive table-top display of hand-made earrings and necklaces set up and were providing a bit of shopping entertainment to go along with the musical variety.

Next up it was Bill’s opportunity to play some nice solo guitar, and although he apologized for a bit of “Loreto Throat” he did a fine job accompanying himself on several numbers.  After all of the musicians had had their turns at the mic they started into a sing-along set where they sang and played together and the Wine Cellar began to feel like a 60’s Hootenanny (if I am not dating myself!).

But that was the essence of the mood of the evening – most of the people in the room were friends, or at least knew each other by sight from the neighborhood, and when someone had finished their set they would rejoin their table in the audience and support the other musicians.  And while there were conversations going on in the background, everyone’s performance was appreciated with warm applause and encouragement, so it began to feel more like a house party with catering rather than a night out at a bar with entertainment.

I feel that these Open Mic evenings are a perfect fit for Loreto Bay – providing a showcase for the musically talented in our community to perform their love of music, and because of the high levels of talent they have, the rest of us who are their appreciative audience enjoy a night of professional quality, musically varied entertainment. 

While I am sure the Open Mic evenings in town on alternate months are equally popular, and that Loreto Bay is well represented both on and off stage there as well, I expect that these evenings at the Wine Cellar may be more intimate and with a stronger sense of community, as close knit as we are here.  But regardless, a good time was had by all, and as I made my way home again that evening I was again reminded what a special place I've found to be “Living Loreto”.   

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Breaking News – there was a Full Moon in Loreto this week!

A fairly recently adopted, and semi-regular (clear weather permitting) event occurred this week, an informal Beach bonfire celebrating the Full Moon was held just north of the Loreto Bay Development under the auspices of the Nopolo Association of Property Owners.  As I am on their mailing list I received an email from Alois, their Secretary, earlier in the week inviting people to gather at the usual spot, a stretch of sandy Beach between a now vacant Hotel property and the Sea of Cortez.  While most of the length of the Beach is accessible on foot, the “NAP” has arranged vehicle access for these events by having a normally locked gate on the old Hotel property opened so those attending can drive down to the Beach and park.

In spite of the fact that Fonatur, the Mexican Government agency that manages the Nopolo area surrounding the Loreto Bay Development, has recently torn up parts of the access road in preparation for paving, I was able to make my way to the designated entrance, although I did encounter a white burro free ranging in the brush near the opened gate.  I parked my vehicle near the dozen or so others that were there ahead of me and made my way to join the other “Moonies” that were gathered around the blazing driftwood fire.

After taking the requisite “moon over Isla Carmen” shots before the subject got any higher in the night sky – and hearing from several people that I had just missed the moon rise which had apparently been spectacular, big and ruby red as it broke over the jagged peaks of Carmen in the dark distance, I then settled down with one of the cervesa I had brought with me and enjoyed my surroundings.

Recognizing several acquaintances in the couple of dozen people who had gathered there that evening, I was soon involved in a conversation with a person who introduced herself as someone who lived in Nopolo full time and she had recognized me from the Blog, which she was a regular reader of.  This sort of “local recognition” doesn't happen very often so I enjoyed talking to her and hearing her stories of “Living Loreto”, which was now her and her partner’s full time home.

Later I got into another conversation with an old friend who also lives in Nopolo and he told me about his daily morning swims around Punta Nopolo, the rocky point at the end of the Loreto Bay Beach that gives its name to the surrounding area.  Now Manfred has been a free diver most of his life and he is one of the few people who braves the chilly 65 degree water at this time of year, so I was interested in hearing him raving about the large and healthy sea life population he sees on his morning swims just offshore from where I live.  Meanwhile, Alois’ wife Kathy encouraged me to sample her homemade lentil soup which was keeping warm just outside of the bonfire glow, while others skewered some hot dogs to roast over the bonfire.

Later I joined another conversation between a neighbor of mine and his fishing buddy, who also lives in Nopolo, and they introduced me to the person they were talking to who they had just met that evening, and who, incredibly as it turned out, had gone to the same High School back in the US as the fisherman!  What are the chances, thirty odd years later, to meet someone standing around a bonfire on a beach in the Baja that you used to go to High School with?  Not sure what that number is, but let’s call it serendipity, for starters!

As the moon continued to rise, shrinking in the sky but giving everything a silvery glaze, I mingled with a few more friends and neighbors before I decided to head home again.  As I drove the short distance back to my Home I reflected on the quietly enjoyable evening I had had – nothing “earth shattering” had happened, just a few beer and a few conversations, meeting some new people and seeing other friends and neighbors – all with the beautiful backdrop of the Sea of Cortez bathed in moonlight!  But as I thought about it, I realized that was what was special about it, an impromptu get- together on the Beach to watch the moon rise and re-connect with friends, old and new – it doesn't take anything more than that to remind me why it’s special to be “Living Loreto”.     

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A rainy day in Loreto Bay

It has been unusually overcast this past week, culminating in a fairly heavy overnight rain shower late in the week.  Different than the tropical storms last Fall, which were usually accompanied by strong winds, this was a steady, but gentle, soaking rain that went on a good part of the overnight hours. 

I was awakened by the rain in the early morning hours and listened to off and on as I drifted in and out of sleep during the rest of the night.  That in itself, I was thinking, is unusual – I am not a particularly light sleeper and to be wakened by the steady sound of rain without wind, in a closed room, is perhaps an indication of how much I have become accustomed to the climate here, such that a rain shower at this time of year is enough to waken me.

However unusual this amount of rain is at this time of year, it is worth noting that this was the week of “Snowmageddon” in many parts of the US, with record snowfalls of up to 3 feet in some places, which perhaps puts our unusual rain in perspective. As extreme weather affects all us more frequently (it was colder in parts of the US Southwest recently than is was in Western Canada for a few days recently) down here as we are getting used to the fact that as a contiguous part of the continent, we too are going to feel some effect from these weather extremes here in the Baja as well.

It continued to rain after I got up, got ready for the day, while I was having my breakfast, and it was still raining steadily as I left for the Office, but my normal routine was altered somewhat when I realized that I needed a towel to dry off the Golf Cart seats before I could begin my morning commute.  Leaving my cluster of homes I headed out onto the Paseo, crossing on the elevated “tope”, which I noticed was acting as a partial dam on the rainwater flowing down the street, something I hadn’t seen since the tropical storm that passed through the first week I was back here in September.  Because there are no “storm drains” in the desert, our sidewalk paths and streets tend to collect the rainfall and its runoff and provide runoff drainage for the Development. 

I also thought about the affect this sort of rain will have on the vegetation.  Here in Loreto Bay the many acres of our common area landscaping is all watered by a carefully monitored drip irrigation system to control the significant water consumption costs, and hours of steady soaking rain represents a considerable bonus to the normal ration.  But the impact of this rain on the natural vegetation in the surrounding area is even more significant, particularly coming at this time of year almost mid-year with more than six dry months ahead before we would normally expect our next heavy rains.    

I have previously commented on the heavier than usual rains we have had over the past three years – more than double the historic levels – and it has been my observation that the shrubs and brush that covers the surrounding area around Loreto have grown noticeably over the same period of time.  The Mountain slopes in the distance are now staying mainly green year-round, while prior to the recent rainy years, they would “brown out” in the spring and stay that way until the fall rains – if we got rain at all.

I had also noticed from my kitchen window that the construction workers arriving to work in the morning with knit caps (or toques, as we used to call them in Canada) and bundled up in their warm jackets and fleece – these people don’t really have rain coats, because it rains here so seldom.  This point was brought home again later in the morning when I saw the maintenance workers who collect the trash wearing the big garbage bags they use - cut open to make ponchos to keep them dry while they worked. 

The rain did ease off mid-morning, and, except for a few strategic puddles, the streets and sidewalk paths dried out again, but going about my business during the day my impression was that there was a different feel in the community – it seemed quieter, and in some ways a “softer” sort of day.  The closest comparison I could come up with was it was somehow similar to the occasional “snow days” of my youth – back during the last ice age in Western Canada, when I grew up.

By mid-afternoon there were growing patches of blue in the sky and periods of bright sunshine, signaling that things were returning to our idyllic normal and when I consulted my default weather site ( , select locale with the airport code of LTO) I saw that after a couple of partly cloudy days this weekend, we are looking forward to a forecast of fully sunny days next week with temperatures ranging from the low to high 20’s Celsius – low to high 70’s Fahrenheit.

While this has admittedly been a “slow news” week, I hope that my rambling thoughts, inspired by nothing more than some overnight rain in January, will give you a small insight as to how in touch we are with our environment here, and how occasional variations from the normal can impact our day to day life as we are “Living Loreto”.

P.S. Further to last week's Blog about new businesses in Loreto Bay - Breaking News - I spoke to Pedro (the owner of the Delicatessen featured in the Blog) this weekend as I observed him moving all of the fixtures and freezers out of the small space where the store was located.  He told me that the closure was temporary and that he would be reopening around the corner in a new addition being built on the Pepegina's restaurant, details will follow!