Sunday, May 17, 2015

A look back on Season Seven

Although I expect to be here in Loreto Bay for another month or so, this season is winding down
with  many of the winter residents already gone and most of the remainder planning on heading north in the next few weeks.  There are, of course, a small but growing number of people, who consider Loreto Bay to be their year-round home, in addition to the dozens of others who work here 12 months of the year doing construction and maintenance and the other jobs that are necessary to keep our community functioning.

But since the normally busy pace of life here has noticeably slowed down, I will be suspending the Living Loreto Blog for the summer as of this posting, due in part to the absence of activities for me to write about.  So this is my opportunity to reflect on this past Season and some of the things that have happened to make it one of the best ever in the history of our community.

One aspect that I have not written about previously is Loreto’s growing reputation as a Cruise Ship destination.  This past Season we were visited by at least 15 Cruise ships between October and April – a record number for Loreto, with two ships alternating from the Princess Line as well as several visits from a Holland America ship.  While this has been an economic boost for the town, with hundreds of passengers spending time and money ashore during their daytime stopover here, I was interested to learn that in response to a passenger survey conducted by Princess, Loreto was chosen by over 90% of the passengers as their favorite destination for the ships that stopped here.

While that sort of response is the source of considerable pride amongst Loretanos, it is also an important confirmation of the appeal that this place has for other travelers – and it will no doubt have a bearing on decisions about the numbers of cruise ships that will stop here in the future, both from the Princess Line as well as others.  Having thousands of Cruise Ship passengers visiting Loreto and leaving with a positive first impression will also have an important future impact on Loreto’s reputation as a tourist destination.  It is not hard to imagine that there will be numbers of these visitors that will decide, on the strength of their positive first impression, to return here for a longer stay at one of the Hotels or Resorts – or perhaps here in Loreto Bay.  

While I am on the subject about tourism and transportation, certainly one of the biggest stories this past Season has been the trial schedule of the first new North American Airline to fly into Loreto since the economic downturn of ’08 – ’09.  As regular readers will be familiar (having written about it several times on these pages) Westjet is wrapping up its 3 1/2 month trial schedule of weekly direct flights from Calgary in western Canada to Loreto. 

While there are still a couple of round trip flights remaining before the end this month, and there has not been an official announcement yet from the Airline, I have it on good authority that Westjet is planning a full Season of service to Loreto starting again this November and running through to the end of May next year.  Furthermore, I have also heard that they are planning TWO flights a week next Season, although I do not know where the second flight will originate from, I understand that their Fall Schedule will become official early this summer.  I have also heard that Alaska Airlines has plans for increased service to Loreto next Season, with the rumor that they will be commencing service to Loreto from San Diego as well as Los Angeles, although again this information is not from an official source.

Based on this speculation, I think it is reasonable to assume that we will enjoy improved air access
next Season with the impact being that greater numbers of people will be able to travel here more easily, and possibly at lower cost, which in turn will increase occupancy levels for rental accommodation and eventually the rates charged for that accommodation.  This increase in tourism will have many positive spinoffs in the overall economy of the town of Loreto improving profits for existing businesses and providing the incentive for new businesses and services to start, both of which will improve employment prospect for a growing number of Loretanos. 

As I indulge in some positive speculation about the immediate future of Loreto, I should qualify that many of us who spend time here have come to understand that without rumors we would have little or no news at all!  So, while some of my speculations could be considered as wishful thinking, there is some substance to my optimism – specifically, my Real Estate sales this Season have been more than double my best year so far, in the 7 Seasons that I have been doing this!

For many years I have held the belief that a positive future for Loreto was a question of WHEN and not IF, and so in that context, I can say with a high degree of confidence, that I believe the “when” is a lot closer now than it has been at any time since the departure of the original Developer, and the subsequent economic uncertainty that followed.  Like so many others who have found their way here and have chosen to make Loreto their home, I know that this is a special place and I believe that we are at the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the long history of this place “where the Mountains come to swim”.

And so another Season comes to an end, and as we reflect on the highlights and memories that make up our experience here, I for one, look forward to the continuation of the many positive trends that appear to be aligning toward an even brighter future for those of us lucky enough to be “Living Loreto”! 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Seeing Loreto Bay through Grandchildren’s eyes – a Guest Blog

This week my Sister, who was a recent Guest staying with me, has contributed a Guest Blog about her visit that included her Grandsons, I hope you enjoy . . . 

This trip to Loreto, our fourth, was a very different experience for us all; instead of coming for a quiet, restful adult holiday, we travelled with one of our extended families - mom and dad and two grandsons on their first visit to Mexico. Less restful, yes, but full of new discoveries. Instead of revisiting the familiar pleasures of the ex-pat community, the serene beauty of the Baja landscape and the charm of the historic town of Loreto, we were treated to an entirely new perspective on this magical world, through the sparkle of the boys’ eye-view! 

When we got out of the airport terminal and into the sun and warmth of the afternoon, the four-year old pronounced that he was coming here to live. He wasn't going to wait until he was grown up – he was coming here NOW! TO STAY!! Our host looked somewhat alarmed. Of course, the boys had been prepped with photos and maps before the trip; school projects helped identify things like cactus and ocean … but Baja reality began to hit home when the first small group of horses ambled onto the highway just outside the airport. This doesn't happen much in urban Ontario!

Later, coming “home” to my brother’s villa in the Founder’s neighborhood to relax over an early supper, the meal was interrupted by a noisy flutter of small birds zeroing in on the tree in the courtyard – prompting the observation from a Grandson that “Hey, there’s no roof out there!! You can see the sky!!” While dinner on the deck at home is a familiar summer routine for the grandsons, small birds flitting into the dining room is relatively rare, and had to be investigated immediately!!

Like most youngsters, bedtime usually comes well before deep darkness; here, however, walking home along the Paseo after the short twilight, they were treated to a vivid light show, the moon and star-filled sky dazzling our city eyes. Next morning, the experience was shared in breathless excitement – “We saw the moon!”, “Yeah, and VENUS!!”, “And all those stars!! There were MILLIONS of stars” 

And cactuses? Well, the towering pillars that dot the landscape along the highway were not quite the finger-sized specimens that had been found in the local flower shop. On later inspection, the big, sharp spines projecting from the ridges of the Cardon had to be tested, as were the thick yellow bristles on the ornamental Barrel cacti used in the village landscaping. Tested with a gentle finger, and found to be, yes, sharp!

But of most interest in these odd plants were the “pimples” that the boys noticed at the top of some of the cacti – flower buds, of course – but what adult would have made that association? And when the pimples blossomed? Why, then they must be blooming pimples, or “bimples”. The fact that the flat paddles, or Nopalitos, of the prickly pear cactus are also sold as vegetables in the market was another curiosity they enjoyed – but weren't interested in sampling .

Little, quick-footed striped grey geckos scampering over the pale gravel replaced the darting squirrels and green lawns of southern Ontario, and were just as hard to sneak up on! Which didn’t prevent them trying, again and again! 

And the pizza shop, with the ginormous pepperoni pizza – and the coffee shop with the swing-out stools at the long table, where they served chocolate almond milk, and cookies the size of Big Macs, and huge fruit cups with chopped papaya, pineapple and mango, and grilled cheese sandwiches toasted with parmesan on the outside, and hot dogs with two doggies in each bun … Boy heaven! 

To say nothing of three pools – a big swirling pool with deep and shallow sections, and a non-functional hot-tub which became a private wave pool, with its own waterfall; the quiet, grown-up lap pool where Baba liked to sit with her book – and the other, best pool near the pizza shop, not so big, but on the way home there was always a chance of stopping at the little store – where once, we found the most enormous marshmallows – huge – the size of cupcakes, vivid pink and virulently flavoured with chemical strawberry! We heard the siren call of s’mores all the way home – and survived the sugar-frenzy that followed!

Just because it’s there! Punta Nopolo, the iconic tooth of volcanic rock that sits in the bay was a constant lure – nothing would satisfy the boys until they climbed to the peak – or as close as possible, with adults helpfully behind – King of the Mountain as they looked over the bay, the village and the golf course lying below. 

The adventure of the glass bottomed boat tour was literally, an eye-opener. Along with the grown-ups, they sat along the sunken viewing tank, watching the swirling schools of fish undisturbed in their native habitat – without getting water in their eyes or up their nose! The gold-striped Sergeant Majors were everywhere, but schools of silvery barracuda, lumpy-faced parrot fish, Yellow-tailed surgeonfish among other exotically coloured and shaped fishes kept us entertained while dozens of vividly coloured starfish decorated the rocky landscape below. When we discovered that the four-year old was counting the sting-rays, the whole boat-load chanted along – sixteen, seventeen, eighteen – all the way up to twenty-six! His proudest moment! 

And then there was the afternoon when the surf came up – a wind blew in past the cruise ship in the distance, and tossed big whitecaps against the shore, “white horses” for the boys to jump and chase all along the clean sandy beach. Later, the palm fronds whipping back and forth, the rattle and swish of their wide leaves whistling in the dying wind provoked worried concern about spooky night visitors. But before daylight, the wind was finished, and we woke to a calm sea and clear skies. Just another day in paradise. 

Mexican food was a challenge – while the grown-ups enjoyed fish and shrimp tacos, the Clam shack produced quesadillas for the boys – “Mexican grilled cheese” – a success; the elegant restaurant in town treated the grown-ups to a wonderful evening; Mom, Dad, and the Grands fully appreciated the delicate creamed cilantro dressing on the shellfish and shrimp, to say nothing of the silky Flan that ended the meal. (Note to self – NEVER pass up a Mexican Flan!!) Although the boys were underwhelmed with their grilled chicken and veggies they were fascinated by the pick-up soccer game going on in the plaza just outside the restaurant patio, and delighted by the ice-cream sundaes that arrived to make everything perfect! 

We made a final tour of Loreto Bay before the trip home, where the boys showed me some of their favorite things. We gently poked cactus spines, found a bird-nest tunnel in a larger Cardon cactus, enjoyed some lizard antics, splashed in a fountain on our way to the beach, and finally, shoes off and splashing, into the gentle wavelets lapping on the shore. No “white horses” today – but miles of empty beach to run, and warm sun and gentle breezes.

One last ride to the airport, luggage checked in, sweaters ready for the arrival in Calgary, and suddenly, they were away – until next time! But for a few days, we shared the magic they found here in Loreto Bay, experiencing the wonder and mystery again through the eyes of a child.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The road to San Javier, and more

Enjoying a second week with Visitors has given me the opportunity to make one of my favorite day trips near Loreto, the drive to San Javier - site of the oldest unrestored Mission Church in the Baja.  I have written on this Blog about this trip and the destination several times over the years and each time I have travelled this road and visited San Javier I have added something to my appreciation and understanding of the surrounding area - and this time was no different.

First of all, the trip to San Javier is as much about the journey as the destination.  Ten years ago when I first made the 34 km trip the road was primitive, unpaved, and dwindled down to a single lane in places. Soon afterwards, paving the road became a local election pledge and work began at the turnoff from Highway #1 a few kilometers south of the town of Loreto.  By the time the next election came around only about 3 km had been paved, but the promise was made again and following that election a total of about 10 km were completed.

This progress was followed by yet another commitment about 5 years ago by the then Governor to complete another 5 km, or approximately halfway to the destination, which finished the road to the where the most challenging terrain was as it switchbacked around a mountain before reaching the high sierra plateau for most of the remainder of the journey to San Javier.

This challenging road construction was further complicated over the past number of years by torrential runoff from tropical storms that have dumped record amounts of rainfall in the area around Loreto, but mainly in the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains west of here.  This runoff has done significant damage to sections of the road where it passes through gorges that channel the water into destructively concentrated flows that can strip away new pavement and erode the base underneath.  So, for the last several years, finishing the paving of this road has been a “two kilometers forward, one kilometer back” process, with one season’s repairs and progress being wiped out in a few days of torrential rain, and requiring major repairs the following season.

Since it had been almost a year since the last time I made this trip, I was happy to take the
opportunity of the visit of my recent Guests to travel to San Javier again, check out the condition of the road and visit the small hamlet around Mission and see what changes have been made.  Heading out early afternoon the road was in perfect condition to almost the halfway point where at the 15km point we passed through some shallow water flowing across the pavement in a shallow arroyo. 

Although we live in what is commonly considered a desert, there is a surprising amount of ground water flowing across the plains between the mountain range and the Sea of Cortez.  This water appears in the form of oasis where the geology forces it to the surface for some distance before it disappears again underground, to reappear again further “downstream”.  There are several of these naturally irrigated areas near the road to San Javier, their locations marked by lush vegetation and stands of palm trees rising above the dry scrub brush that covers most of the terrain in the area.

However, I have never seen so much water still flowing across the road in several places on the
second half of the trip as I did this time, causing me to believe that the heavy Fall rains of the past several years, replenished by smaller, but unusually frequent rains this past winter, have significantly raised the water table resulting in the usually dry arroyos that cross the road to be flooded this late in the year.  At about the 27km mark we encountered several pieces of heavy roadwork equipment working on the approach to one of the small bridges that have been added during the road construction and closer to San Javier we approached a hairpin turn that about 100 yards of pavement had been stripped away from the road leaving a stretch of rocky dirt and gravel to the turn where the paved road resumes and continues to climb up and around the mountain.  

The rest of the journey to San Javier was uneventful, with one more patch of broken pavement before we entered the quiet hamlet.  As we drove down the one main street towards the rugged stone Mission Church I noticed some minor changes that have been made here since my last visit.  There is a small new store now across from the entrance to the Church that apparently sells snacks and soft drinks and on the south side of the square there is a new restaurant, which was closed when we were there, but presumably opens when there is a religious or social event drawing more than the few tourists that are normally there. 

The “Living Roots” community center that I wrote about when it opened a few years ago was closed on the Monday we were there, but I gather it has sustained some damage from the storms last Fall and is due to be repaired during the summer, with funds that have been raised this past winter season.  After a brief visit inside the Church itself, we made our way down the path behind the Mission building towards the 300 year old Olive Grove, with its ancient trees dating back to the original Jesuit missionaries.

Along the path I saw more cultivated fields growing corn and onions than I have seen previous in years and I was left with a positive impression that San Javier was showing some modest signs of relative prosperity. Compared to my early visits starting 10 years ago, and I was surprised to see that I was able to get a fairly strong cell signal there now, no doubt a result of the electrification that happened here several years ago.  One can only speculate how the advent of wireless communications will impact this remote community in the years to come!

And so, after another peaceful, and somehow restoring visit to this 300 year old religious outpost, we headed back for the approximately 1 hour drive to the Highway and Loreto Bay, enjoying the return trip vistas of the Sea of Cortez from the road as it twisted and turned through the Mountains, and returned to the plains as they approach the shore.  Although this wasn’t my Guests first visit to San Javier, they too seemed to appreciate the mellow atmosphere that surrounds the place, and I was happy to have them with me to experience it another time, proving once again that sometimes it takes the presence of Visitors to truly appreciate “Living Loreto”.